Patent disputes threaten big banks’ blockchain bet

Kristian Gårder, SEB's representative in the R3 consortium.
Kristian Gårder, SEB's representative in the R3 consortium. Foto: Oskar Omne
More than 60 of the world’s largest banks are invested in R3, an international consortium for blockchain transfers. But a series of individual patent applications filed by US banks now threaten to derail the project, according to a representative of the Swedish bank SEB.
Öka textstorlek

(This is a condensed, English version of Di Digital’s original article.)

The R3 consortium was founded two years ago with the aim of building a common platform for transfers using blockchain, the groundbreaking technology that has previously been associated with the crypto currency bitcoin. In recent years, blockchain has caught the interest of financial institutions.

Members will obviously worry if some R3 members seek patents that we've discussed together.

By circumventing the traditional means of international transfer, blockchain can be used to quickly, cheaply and safely transfer money, stocks and other assets between banks around the globe.

The R3 project has claimed a considerable amount of time and resources from the banks in the consortium. SEB, a major Swedish bank, has around ten employees committed to the project.

Kristian Gårder, who represents SEB in the R3 consortium, says he hopes that R3’s platform Corda, will be ready for launch in two to three years. However, a series of individual patent applications, filed by members such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, may severely limit the usefulness of the platform, according to Gårder. 

"The R3 consortium has applied for a patent for Corda. But both Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have applied for their own blockchain patents, and they are not alone in doing so. Members will obviously worry if some R3 members seek patents that we've discussed together. Now we are beginning to see alliances form," says Gårder.

The exact nature of the various patent applications are not known to him.

"Goldman Sachs’ patent is concerns securities settlements. I haven’t seen Morgan Stanley's patent," he says.

Kristian Gårder believes that the distrust caused my these individual patent applications may prove fatal to the entire idea of a common platform.

"There is a relatively high risk of that, yes," he says.

To be clear, Kristian Gårder believes that Corda will be launched. The question is what happens after that.

"The risk is that Corda is not used by all the banks. If that happens it’s benefit will be severely limited. It's a huge challenge to get 65 banks to cooperate. We will probably know the outcome of this within three months", says Gårder.

SEB’s position is that that Corda should be open source and hence available to the entire financial community. If the cooperation ultimately fails, the bank says it will still be invested in the underlying technology.

"We have never seen R3 as a risk-free project and we have already learned a lot from this," says Kristian Gårder.

SEB was one of R3:s founding partners. Today, the consortium has 43 partners and 65 members. Most of the world's major international banks are involved in the project.

There are also competing initiatives, such as Hyperledger, a consortium that started outside the financial sector.

Di Digital is a tech news website owned by Dagens Industri, the largest business newspaper in the Nordic region.

Nordic Tech List is a database that covers companies, investments and people in the Nordic tech sector.

Vi har förtydligat vår personuppgiftspolicy. Läs mer om hur vi hanterar personuppgifter och cookies