As in any new industry experiencing a surge in popularity and financial interest, the number of cryptocurrency-related patent filings has seen a sharp uptick in the past several years, as interest in both distributed ledger technology and cryptocurrency has increased significantly around the globe. However, it may come as a shock to cryptocurrency enthusiasts and DLT industry professionals that the holder of the most cryptocurrency-related patents is none other than Bank of America. Satoshi Nakamoto must be turning in Hal Finney’s grave
Bank of America (“BAML”) CEO Brian Moynihan recently indicated that the company has more than 40 patents on blockchain/cryptocurrency-related technology (that number is actually currently 48). According to Moynihan, distributed ledger technology is an “amalgamation of different technologies,” and can be used for a variety of purposes, including to verify ownership.
According to a Yahoo! Finance article, they spoke to Moynihan at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he said: “We believe in the idea of distributed ledgers, and smart contracts, and all the words you hear about that. We are developing stuff… But it’s not new concepts. The Registry of Motor Vehicles is a distributed ledger. We know who owns a car, we know who owns a house. The idea is that you can do it more electronically, and can do it across borders.” If any of you reading this are perplexed as to how BAML is applying for patents on things that are not “not new concepts,” join the club! Two of the main requirements an applicant must meet in order to patent something are “Novelty” and “Non-Obviousness“… how many BAML lawyers just collectively face-palmed?
The most recent patent acquired by BAML in the blockchain/cryptocurrency realm is for a “blockchain alias for person-to-person payments” (So you know, Bitcoin). From what Moynihan has said thus far, it appears that Bank of America is very interested in utilizing blockchain technology and applying it to financial transactions, but may not be all that interested in entering the cryptocurrency market, at least not yet. In the same Yahoo! Finance article, Moynihan is quoted as saying, “The question of an anonymous currency, that’s a policy question that people have to answer,” he said. “But the idea of digital movement of money, and blockchain, we’re all for.” That’s Bank CEO speak for “we comin’ at you crypto!”
According to the Bitcoin Patent Report, China currently holds the highest number of cryptocurrency-related patents (910), followed by the United States (676), the United Kingdom (112), and South Korea (98). It is interesting to note that IBM and MasterCard both appear in the top 10 list of patent holders for cryptocurrency technology, as well as Alibaba.
Of course, it’s important to note that the mere possession of a patent does not equate to expertise on that particular subject, and it stands to reason that not all of the patent-holders are experts on the topics for which they hold patents. Many companies are merely obtaining patents as a way to potentially protect the IP associated with them, and to prevent others from utilizing that IP. The early developers of cryptocurrency were more interested in the power of their technology rather than protecting it with patents, and it will be interesting to see how the race to protect the IP associated with cryptocurrency affects future applications of blockchain technology, whether it’s in the cryptocurrency space or in the broader distribution of the technology.