A patent grants its holder exclusive rights to an invention, such as a piece of technology, for a certain period of time. While designed as a means of protecting the intellectual property of inventors, the system is not without its critics who believe that patenting deters innovation and wastes resources.
Consider crypto founding fathers like Satoshi Nakamoto, individuals and groups who place ideas ahead of profit and are more aligned with open source principles than filing patents and closely guarding their secrets — the only secret Satoshi guarded was his/its identity. It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that in the last decade the company that has amassed more cryptocurrency patents than any other — and who, to some, seems to be the antithesis of everything decentralized currency stands for — is Bank of America.
According to Bitcoin Patent Report, in the nine years since Bitcoin’s first block was mined, over 2,000 related patents have been filed. In the cryptocurrency’s first few years the number of patents was low — averaging under 50 a year. By 2015 that number began to increase, and by 2016 was growing exponentially. In 2017, 1,250 cryptocurrency-related patents were filed.
Some of the companies who feature in the top ten are to be expected, such as Bitflyer and IBM, whose interest in blockchain is well documented. The computing giant has filed a total of 34 cryptocurrency related patents, but is outpaced by South Korean brokerage Coinplug, which is third on the list with 39.
Others on the list are more unexpected, either because they have publicly expressed little interest in cryptocurrency, or are not commonly associated with such cutting-edge technology. It makes sense that MasterCard would have an interest in digital payment systems, for example, but it is surprising to see them ranked ninth for cryptocurrency related patents, with 21 filings. The greatest surprise of all is reserved for the top spot, which as noted above is claimed by Bank of America, having at least 45 patents filed.
Bitcoin Patent Report also revealed that 50% of all crypto-related patents come from China (910), followed by the U.S. (676), the U.K. (112), and South Korea (98). Regardless of the merits of each patent, and the moral case for their very existence, they indicate an unprecedented level of interest in Bitcoin and blockchain technologies.