TL;DR: United States Patent 10,510,053, Send cryptographic currency to email address, was recently granted to Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong. Patents in the open-source community ethos are considered anathema, slaps in the faces to the spirit under which much of the tech was created, developed, and maintained. That goes doubly for Bitcoin.
Coinbase CEO: “Software Patents Should be Abolished”
“Software patents should be abolished,” Armstrong responded to news the patent he sought years ago was granted, “but in the dirty game they create, every company is wise to build a portfolio for defensive purposes. I’d rather that was not the case.” That statement follows his company’s long-held public view: good actors nab patents before bad actors, thus allowing a valuable technology not to be captured and walled-away forever.
The recently approved Armstrong application was filed March 17, 2015, and lists the Coinbase CEO as the sole inventor. It’s described as bitcoin “sent to an email address. No miner’s fee is paid by a host computer system. Hot wallet functionality is provided that transfers values of some Bitcoin addresses to a vault for purposes of security. A private key of a Bitcoin address of the vault is split and distributed to keep the vault secure. Instant exchange allows for merchants and customers to lock in a local currency price. A vault has multiple email addresses to authorize a transfer of bitcoin out of the vault. User can opt to have private keys stored in locations that are under their control. A tip button rewards content creators for their efforts. A bitcoin exchange allows for users to set prices that they are willing to sell or buy bitcoin and execute such trades.”
Back in 2015 when the subject of patents was fresh, Armstrong wrote in anticipation to the question about whether Coinbase would use them to “go after other” crypto companies, “No, we didn’t file them for any offensive purpose and don’t intend to go after any bitcoin company. We filed them to defend ourselves against patent trolls, and help raise the value of our business. I personally think it is unethical when big companies go after small companies (offensively) using patents. This is usually an indication that the big company is in trouble, scared, or trying to pressure the smaller company into an acquisition.”
Fear of patent trolls is real, and doubly so for software-dependent companies. The issue has been worrisome it made its way to the US Supreme Court back in 2017 with TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods. The court found larger companies would use their patents to shakedown smaller firms, and file their complaints in jurisdictions with friendlier-leaning judges, handing them yet another advantage in intimidating competitors. Being sued is a giant concern for startups, but it’s not always smaller companies who are hunted. Notoriously, Apple was hit by a patent troll lawsuit in 2018 and ordered to pay more than half a billion dollars as a result.
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