In recent years, there has been increased interest in quantum computing among technologists, governments, and investors.
This is not surprising. Quantum computers may solve some mathematical problems much faster than conventional computers. Applications that are likely to benefit include simulation of materials (e.g. for drug discovery or improved materials), optimization (e.g. for risk management, or logistics), cryptography, or machine learning. Given how pervasive these applications are to modern society, such a level of interest is only natural. Indeed, in a recent report, has estimated the potential value created by quantum computing over the next 15 to 30 years to be of the order of hundreds of billions USD.
Along with the increased interest in quantum computing, concerns as to whether quantum computing will live up to its hype have been raised.
Despite the concerns, several key players and quantum computing advocates have skin in the game. The usual suspects like IBM, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google all have well established quantum computing research and development programs. Governments have also been pouring money into research programs: in the US, the Innovation and Competition act, a $250 billion bill, designates quantum technology as an area of focus; in the UK, the total investment has passed the £1 billion milestone in 2019; while Germany recently announced that it will be investing €2 billion by 2025 to support quantum computing.
Interestingly, investment activity in ‘smaller’ companies has recently spiked. In 2021 alone, several landmark announcements have been made. IonQ announced that it is set to become public (via a SPAC), making it the first publicly traded pure-play quantum computing company, with an initial valuation of about $2 billion. PsiQuantum announced successfully raising further funding amounting to $450 million, thus attaining a valuation of $3.15 billion. Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC) and Honeywell Quantum Solutions (HQS), a division of Honeywell International, have announced their merger. This merger is particularly interesting and one to watch as it brings together the quantum software expertise of CQC with the hardware expertise of HQS.
Turning to the underlying technology, it is interesting to note that these companies use a different qubit technology from the superconducting qubit technology used by Google, IBM and others. IonQ and HQS use trapped ion technology, while PsiQuantum uses photonic qubits. CQC’s focus is primarily on quantum software and algorithms. It is also clear that these companies have been taking steps to protect their technology; a cursory search on Espacenet reveals that all of them are named as proprietors/applicants on a number of patents or patent applications.
In the last decade, significant advances have been made in quantum computing; however, the practical benefits are yet to be seen. Different roadmaps have been provided by quantum computing technology providers. Broadly, it is expected that in the next 5 years or so, early use cases for the technology will become more apparent, while a number of tangible and usable systems (albeit imperfect) will become available. Whether those milestones are met could prove to be a turning point and could determine whether the required continued funding of quantum technology is maintained. The recent investment activity suggests that there is confidence that those milestones will be met.
The author of this article is a Chartered (UK) Patent Attorney. Nothing in this article should be considered as an attempt to give financial or investment advice.