I got caught up in Bitcoin media mania. Things are getting out of control. Doesn’t any of the media comment seem, well, just a little, oh, I don’t know, crazy?
A couple of days ago I sat down to look through a document for one of our clients. For couple of hours I didn’t look at Twitter which, given my utterly out-of-control Twitter addiction was pretty unusual. When I stopped for a cup of coffee, I glanced at Twitter and discovered considerable excitement amongst the people that I follow. Apparently one of America’s largest banks, JP Morgan Chase, had been awarded a patent for an “Bitcoin-like” payment system.
— Izabella Kaminska (@izakaminska) December 10, 2013
Well! In our corner of the transactions treehouse that counts as big big news so I very excitedly clicked on the link and soon found who bunch of magazine articles about the patent. For example:
JPMorgan Chase has filed a patent with the US patent office for a computerised payment system that has elements that resemble the bitcoin digital currency.[From JPMorgan Chase files bitcoin-style payment patent – bobsguide.com]
Well! This is certainly big news I thought. Just the sort of thing that my clients will be interested in and therefore very important for me to understand what it’s all about as soon as possible. So I clicked on the link to the patent itself and started reading the introduction. Remember, I was doing this on my phone, so I was only skimming down, but I couldn’t at first glance see anything other than the usual kind of trivial and obvious use of computer software that is characteristic of the broken and dysfunctional US patent system. I didn’t see anything that registered in my brain as novel, interesting, unusual, stimulating or, most particularly, in any way related to Bitcoin or any similar concept. Puzzling.
And yet I was still getting tweets about this amazing development. About an hour later when I’d finished doing what I was doing, I thought to myself that I must have missed something and hadn’t understood the magnitude of this breakthrough. When the next tweet pointing to the patent came along, I actually clicked on it, again, and scrolled down my iPhone screen and started reading the actual patent itself. I was struck by two things. First of all, even on second glance it had absolutely nothing to do with Bitcoin. Nothing. There was nothing about coins for one thing, nothing about an open and distributed ledger, nothing about any of the basic characteristics of Bitcoin at all. The second thing I noticed as I was reading through it was that it seemed oddly dated. I wasn’t reading in very much detail but there was something about the language and the claims that I saw as redolent of a great many patents filed in the first great Internet boom. I can say that with authority, because my name is on one of them!
Since I had other things to do, I didn’t look into any further and, as is my “style” I posted something flippant on Twitter about how it lwas uninteresting and looked like a patent from 1997 and went back to work. Imagine my surprise then, when later in the day, I discovered that it is actually was a patent from the late 1990s!
But the filing is actually a renewal of a patent first filed in 1999[From Debunking JP Morgan Bitcoin – Business Insider]
So it was even less interesting than I’d thought at first and second glance. And yet this morning I’m still getting emails from people saying “wow have you seen what JP Morgan is doing!” linking to stories like this.
US banking major JP Morgan has filed to patent an online payment system that is similar to the emerging virtual currency, Bitcoin.[From JP Morgan to Patent Bitcoin-Like Virtual Cash [VIDEO] – IBTimes UK]
Please help to spread the word. There is nothing remotely interesting in the JP Morgan patent. It is not for an “anonymous” system since as the patent clearly states, it will maintain a directory that links the payment name to the underlying account. It does not use coins. It does not have an open ledger. It does not mean anything for the Bitcoin community or even for the wider crypto currency community.
So why am I bothering to write this blog post? I think it’s because I see the events surrounding this pattern is being illustrative of a kind of Bitcoin mania that has broken out in polite society. The interesting thing about Bitcoin is in my opinion, and for that matter in other people’s opinion, is the technology of maintaining the open and distributed ledger and the use of cryptographic “proof of work”. But this is technical and complicated and as a consequence, it’s boring to journalists and no one understands it. The only interesting thing about Bitcoin if you don’t understand the technology is the “currency” which has a wonderful creation myth and a devoted following who display a fervour that is extraordinary. Take a look at this comment.
Chase took a swipe (pun intended) at Bitcoin by specifically not mentioning it in the patent application:[From JPMorgan Chase Building Bitcoin-Killer | Lets Talk Bitcoin]
There must be a DSM V code for this. Bitcoin mania is getting out of control. Perhaps it has become a kind of lightning rod for discontent about the economy, or the modern world in general, but much of the discussion around it is, in my opinion, far from rational.