UPDATE (30th June 23:00 BST): Updated with comment from Mastercard.
UPDATE (2nd July 21:00 BST): Updated with comment from the Cryptocurrency Defense Foundation.
Global financial services giant MasterCard has filed a patent that would seek to incorporate bitcoin into its design for a planned global online shopping cart.
Entitled ‘Payment Interchange for Use With Global Shopping Cart’, the filing was submitted by the New York company to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in March 2013.
The patent application is part of a series of filings related to MasterCard’s effort to build a global online shopping cart catering to online shoppers.
This global shopping cart would be based on each store offering its own individual cart, thereby making it easier for consumers to dedicate carts to larger projects, such as weddings or home renovations.
A representative from MasterCard told CoinDesk:
“Every day, we look for ways to bring additional convenience to consumers when they shop. This application is just one example of that – exploring how to create flexibility in how a consumer would fund a shopping cart purchase.”
Still, MasterCard added that the patent doesn’t suggest any particular support for bitcoin:
“The application was filed to protect our intellectual property and does not indicate a commitment to one idea or concept.”
The patent, published on 19th June, has not yet been approved by the USPTO.
The filing notes that a global shopping cart would require a payment interchange that supports a variety of payment methods.
As such, MasterCard includes bitcoin in the filing under the broader term of “non-traditional modes or sources of payment”, stating:
“The payment interchange of claim 1, wherein the one or more payment modes or sources comprise cloud payment schemes, digital wallets, point of sale (POS) and non-traditional modes or sources of payment.”
The patent later expands on the definition of barter payments, listing “virtual currency, bitcoin, social media credits, automated clearing house (ACH) and coupons”.
Support for bitcoin wallets
MasterCard also details how it will aim to support a broad range of payments through a “flexible API framework sufficient to support the payment of interchange”.
Under the claim, the API would also be able to interface with bitcoin as well as other digital wallets such as its own MasterPass, Google Wallet, PayPal and potentially those offered by bitcoin companies.
The filing includes bitcoin among a number of other offerings, reading:
“The API can also support an interface to accept non-traditional modes or sources of payment such as Amazon virtual currency, paying with rewards points, bitcoin, virtual card numbers and the like.”
Bitcoin’s patent battles
With the news of the MasterCard filing, the credit card issuer adds its name to a list of other traditional financial companies that have sought to claim patent protection for various digital currency uses, including Gemalto, Visa and Western Union.
However, while potentially worrying to observers in the bitcoin community, there remains disagreement regarding just what kind of threat, if any, digital currency companies would face from the patent filings.
Reed Jessen, of the Cryptocurrency Defense Foundation, for example, called the patent “the perfect example of MasterCard attempting to control the future of the bitcoin economy”.
Further, he told CoinDesk he believes that this could be just the start of a wave of similar announcements, saying:
“I suspect that nearly all future patents from MasterCard covering electronic money exchanges will identify bitcoin as a possible payment option. It costs them nothing to include the ‘bitcoin’ phrasing in their patent applications and may increase the scope of their claims to cover the cryptoeconomy. I think we will see increasing inclusion of bitcoin-related language in patent drafting in coming months and years. It’s the rational thing to do for traditional electronic transaction companies.”
For more on past bitcoin-related patent filings and how the CDF plans to combat their potentially negative effects, read our most recent report.
Hat tip to Let’s Talk Bitcoin
Credit card image via Shutterstock