The financial services industry is making significant investments into the blockchain, a distributed ledger technology best known for enabling the digital currency bitcoin. Realizing the economic potential of blockchain technology could result in sharply lowered fund transfer times and costs while bolstering security.

Recent patent applications by several financial services firms offer insight into how those firms think blockchain technology could work, and the race to patent it could lead ultimately to the next big battle over technology standards and who owns them.


Blockchain technology is viewed, by some, as “the future for financial services infrastructure,”1 as it combines the “peer-to-peer computing ethos of Silicon Valley with the money management of Wall Street.”2 The technology has the capability of speeding up transactions, improving the security of financial infrastructure, and cutting operations costs by $20 billion annually, according to one estimate.3

The R3 CEV consortium, a joint blockchain project bringing together more than 50 of the world’s leading financial institutions, noted that “distributed ledger technology has the potential to change financial services as profoundly as the Internet changed media and entertainment.”4 In short, blockchain technology, according to Goldman Sachs, could “change everything.”5 Given the economic potential, it is no surprise that the financial services industry has looked into obtaining patents to protect concepts and technologies related to blockchain—and, possibly, to assert control over the use of those concepts in new trading platforms through such patent rights.

In general, banks can potentially use patents to create market exclusivity over their own trading platforms or they can use them to generate additional revenue by monetizing those rights through royalties from other platforms that use the technologies. Patents also enable financial institutions to mitigate the risk of being sued as they implement the technologies.

Catherine Bessant of Bank of America said that owning patents in the blockchain space is “very important... to reserve our spot even before we know what the commercial application might be.”6 Similarly, Andy Cadel of JPMorgan Chase said patents represent his firm’s “view of the future” and serve to protect the firm’s investments, adding that “If we invent something and we file a patent, that means no one else can patent it. We don’t want to find ourselves locked out of using our own invention.” Cadel also recognized the potential cross-licensing opportunities from owning patents.7 Finally, banks may be filing patent applications simply to test whether the technology is indeed patentable. In the event that the United States Patent and Trademark Office determines that such applications are not patentable, then the risk of being sued for developing a blockchain technology may be immaterial.

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3 Tom Simonite, “Microsoft Bets That Bitcoin-Style Blockchains Will Be Big Business.” MIT Technology Review, January 22, 2016,