Recent Patent Filings and Public Perspective

To preface this brief post, I’ll first say sorry for the little sabbatical I took – new season, new internship, it’s taken me a while to get into the swing of things. Secondly, I’ll throw you a pair of Coindesk articles detailing patents filed within the past few weeks by major companies with regards to Bitcoin. Both articles at least briefly discuss these patents as threats to the Bitcoin ecosystem – this is not the angle I wish to look at these patents from. I’m not a fan at all of patents restricting creativity and innovation in favor of maintaining the balance of power in business, and that’s exactly what these companies are trying to do, in my opinion. Are they a threat? The answer to that question is much less clear.

The very filing of these patents, though, is indicative of a major change in the view of Bitcoin in the realms of payments and ecommerce. Bitcoin has gone from being compared to the Quetzal, as mentioned in my recent paper, to being a force worthy of legal action. Legal action, by the way, specifically designed to secure the place of these finance companies in the business world as Bitcoin begins to invade their space. It’s not hard to see how Bitcoin could be a major threat to payments companies like MasterCard and Western Union, or even an ecommerce company like eBay. Yet it was largely ignored, at least publicly, by these very companies. Whether it’s the recent surge in the price of BTC back above the $600 mark or the press surrounding Bitcoin in light of events such as the Silk Road bitcoin auction, it would appear as if it’s becoming more and more difficult to ignore Bitcoin.

MasterCard wishes to add Bitcoin under the umbrella of its “global shopping cart”, a concept seeking to provide “flexibility in how a customer would fund a shopping cart purchase”, in the words of a MasterCard rep. Western Union seeks to have exclusive rights to an exchange allowing users to trade digital currency for fiat currency (which intrigues me, since that concept already exists rather prevalently). If granted, these patents not only protect these companies from complete disruption by Bitcoin, but suddenly make these companies major players in the realm of cryptocurrency – quite the 180, no?

Any supporter of cryptocurrency, or really anybody that’s even vaguely educated on the topic, must be saying “I told you so” to some extent as news like this continues to emerge. There’s certainly still a long battle for the crypto-community before anybody can really say Bitcoin is a mainstream concept, but as major finance companies begin to file faux-intellectual property claims out of what can only be described as fear, I think we can say we’re gaining ground. California legalized cryptocurrencies before it legalized other currently semi-legal substances. Should be absolutely fascinating to see how Bitcoin fares legally over the next few months.