Midea Group, a major manufacturer of electrical appliances in China, is seeking to patent a method for mining bitcoin with household items, public records show.
The previously unreported application was submitted last November and published earlier this year by the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) of the People's Republic of China.
The company's application calls for appliances ranging from air conditioners, dehumidifiers and TVs to be built with specialized mining chips embedded inside. Once programmed, the products would connect to a cloud-based service and contribute their hashing power in the background.
As the patent application's abstract explains:
"The method comprises the following steps: controlling network access of the household appliance, and logging in a bitcoin account via the household appliance, wherein the bitcoin account is an account preregistered in a bitcoin [mining] website; driving a controller of the household appliance to [mine] coins in the bitcoin [mining] website, and storing the ... bitcoins into a bitcoin wallet corresponding to the bitcoin account."
According to the method proposed by the patent, running the mining software would not impact the normal function of the device, and the system works even when the appliance is not in use. As a result, "the service range and commercial value of the household appliance is increased," while also generating some extra income for the product owner.
The concept itself has been explored over the years, by companies such as bitcoin startup 21 Inc., nor is Midea the first firm in China to weigh the idea as well.
The viability of software patents in China is also a little unclear. Computer programs cannot be patented, but are eligible for some copyright protection. According to SIPO, software may be patentable if the combination of code and hardware constitutes something that is truly innovative.
Midea Group, which employs more than 125,000 people, was ranked 450 on the Fortune Global 500 list for 2017. In financial statements from earlier this year, the company reported more than $22 billion in revenue for FY2016 - with $2 billion in profits.
Air conditioning image via Shutterstock