Bank of America is trying to load up on patents for the technology behind bitcoin

Blockchain technology could change how trading desks look and operate.
Blockchain technology could change how trading desks look and operate.
Image: REUTERS/Remote/Pawel Kopczynski - RTX1NWXV
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Bankers may not think bitcoin will ever go fully mainstream, but they clearly believe there is value in the technology that powers such cryptocurrencies, known as blockchain.

On Dec. 17, the US Patent office published 10 blockchain-related patents filed by Bank of America in July 2014. The patents haven’t been granted yet, but the filings demonstrate the bank’s interest in using blockchain technology to revamp its backend operations, which, like other financial institutions, are largely paper-based.

The wide-ranging patents cover everything from a “cryptocurrency transaction payment system” which would let users make transactions using cryptocurrency, to risk detection, storing cryptocurrencies offline, and using the blockchain to measure fraudulent activity. (The blockchain is essentially a publicly available ledger that’s distributed to everyone within a network.)

Bank of America had no comment.

Financial institutions are quickly ramping up their research efforts around blockchain technology. Last week, IBM, JPMorgan, the London Stock Exchange, and Wells Fargo announced the Open Ledger Project, a new consortium that will focus on allowing businesses to easily build their own blockchain technology. Bank of America is a part of a consortium led by blockchain startup R3 that’s developing blockchain technology to be used in financial markets. The Aite Group estimates that banks have invested $75 million this year on blockchain tech, a figure the research firm forecasts will grow to $400 million in 2019.

Other financial institutions have been building up their blockchain-related intellectual property. Goldman Sachs filed a patent for its own cryptocurrency, SETLCoin, that would allow traders to execute and clear trades in real time.

It’s hard to speculate what Bank of America will do with these patents, if anything. But Coindesk notes these patents could be hinting at BofA working on a complete network based on blockchain.