Move over IBM and Mastercard – BofA leads blockchain patent race

Bank of America has applied for or received at least 43 patents for blockchain, the ledger technology used for verifying and recording transactions that’s at the heart of virtual currencies. It is the largest number among major banks and technology companies, according to a study by EnvisionIP.

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Move over IBM and Mastercard – BofA leads blockchain patent race

“Based on what’s publicly out there, the technology sector hasn’t embraced blockchain as much as the financial-services industry,” says Maulin Shah, managing attorney for EnvisionIP.

International Business Machines, which has targeted blockchain and artificial intelligence for future growth, tied with Mastercard for second on the list, with 27 each.

Bank of America has refrained from offering Bitcoin futures contracts and its Merrill Lynch unit told employees not to offer brokerage clients access to one of the few financial instruments directly holding Bitcoin.

Mark Pipitone, a BofA spokesman, said in an email that the bank has 48 blockchain-related patents and applications, declining to comment further. EnvisionIP’s study only included issued patents and applications that are made public, which typically occurs 18 months after they’re filed.

Historically less active in pursuing patents, banks in the past two years have become more aggressive, working with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to educate examiners about financial services. One goal was to limit patents that could be used against them; the other was to ensure they’d be able to get the patents they want.

Betting on Blockchain

Banks are some of the largest holders of patents for blockchain technology. Shah’s study, published last week, identified 1,045 patents or applications related to blockchain filed in the US by 478 owners. Almost 60% were filed by what Shah called “blockchain-specific companies,” meaning startups like cryptocurrency exchanges.

FMR LLC’s Fidelity Investments, Toronto-Dominion Bank and Accenture also were in the top 10, as was Coinbase and Dell. Two of the biggest holders, 405 Technologies SA and World Award Foundation, weren’t easily linked to any known companies, Shah said.

Blockchain’s Impact

Blockchain technology could reshape the global financial system as banks look to use it to speed trading, improve record-keeping and simplify back-end functions. Mastercard is testing the technology to facilitate payments between businesses, Chief Executive Officer Ajay Banga said.

“The challenges of speed, of transparency and costs — both in domestic and cross-border payments in B2B — are more interesting than trying to find technology looking for a problem to solve in consumer payments,” Banga said on an October analysts call.

Blockchain is geared toward “manipulation of data, and that’s why it’s really taken off in the payment-processing industry,” Shah said. “This is only going to increase.”

Software companies that deal with large amounts of data, like Alphabets Google, Microsoft  and Oracle, haven’t received many patents related to blockchain. That may change as recent applications are made public.

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