The company built on the research of Craig Wright, who claimed to have invented the bitcoin crypto-currency, has reportedly been sold to a private equity firm. The deal puts the spotlight once again on Wright, a 46-year-old computer scientist who is the cryptocurrency’s most controversial figure. He hopes to remain central to the technology’s future, telling Reuters that the goal is to build bitcoin into a global “system with no ruler, no king.”
“We will scale and grow bitcoin to become what it was envisioned to be,” he said. “All I do is to help grow the use of bitcoin, and I want to see is it in daily use by at least a billion people on-chain. We have the funds, the people and the technology to do this.”
According to a news release, a Malta-based private equity fundSICAV plc bought nChain Holdings, “the world leader in blockchain-centric research and development.” It put no value on the deal and did not mention Wright. Reuters previously identified nChain, formerly known as EITC Holdings, as Wright’s vehicle for filing hundreds of bitcoin and blockchain-related patents. UK records confirm that the target company – under both its EITC and nChain names – already filed more than 80 bitcoin and blockchain-related patents.
According to Reuters, a person close to the deal said that $300m had been invested in nChain, but it was not clear over what period of time. The Maltese fund did not respond to emails asking for comment. The news agency reported last year that EITC planned to file hundreds of patents related to blockchain, the distributed ledger technology that underpins cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.
After failing to convince many in the bitcoin community that he was Satoshi Nakamoto, the purported founder of bitcoin, Wright retreated from view last year. Reuters reported last month that Wright was working with Calvin Ayre, a Canadian online gambling tycoon, to build a patent portfolio, though its purpose was not clear. Ayre was not immediately available for comment.
nChain said in an emailed response to questions from Reuters that neither Ayre nor Wright had a stake in it before or after the sale. It said the company previously acquired Wright’s assets and intellectual property, and he now held the post of chief scientist. Although it was not possible to confirm Wright’s identity as Nakamoto, a Reuters investigation found he was deeply involved in the early development of bitcoin, and had told Australian tax officials he possessed more than 1 million bitcoin – worth $1.2bn at the current exchange rate.
Patent lawyers have noted that open-source technologies like bitcoin are not easy to patent, and even if patents are approved, they are not always easy to defend. Without confirming how many bitcoins he owns, Wright told Reuters he would never “dump bitcoin.” He said: “I will sell when I do this for goods on a daily basis, or I will go down with it. Past the basics of my family’s well-being, all I have is dedicated to building the systems and institutions needed to make bitcoin successful globally.”
The news release also shed light on what Wright and nChain might do with its patents. nChain this year “intends to make some of its intellectual property assets available to the blockchain community through open-source software and royalty-free licensing.” It invited interested parties to register via email. nChain’s patent filings, seen by Reuters, range from the storage of medical documents to WiFi security.
Investors have spent more than $1.5bn on blockchain and bitcoin start-ups over the past four years, according to CB Insights, an internet research company.