Despite the fact that many people are determined to “shop small” and that pop-up shops have a current U.S. market value of $50 billion, large corporations are still very much in control of the U.S. marketplace. Now, one of the most well-known (and arguably, one of the most despised) corporate giants has filed some very interesting patent applications, potentially signaling the company’s intent to enter a surprising new marketplace: the cryptocurrency arena.
Cryptocurrencies really caught on in 2017, with consumers deciding to spend billions in digital assets. Using blockchain technology, cryptocurrency values aren’t determined by a central authority and can be sent directly between parties with no transaction fees via the internet. With over 1,600 forms of cryptocurrency currently in existence, this digital currency seems like an obvious option for people who want something untraceable and valuable. But Bitcoin, in particular, has decreased significantly in value this year — and cryptocurrency isn’t immune to major financial problems. Although bankruptcies resulting from unpaid medical bills affected an estimated 2 million Americans in 2013, it’s possible that cryptocurrency bankruptcies could impact U.S. consumers in the near future if a cryptocurrency exchange becomes a debtor.
In all, cryptocurrency investment is rather risky and doesn’t appeal to every consumer. But that’s not stopping companies like Facebook from launching their own digital coins. Now, Walmart may be trying to follow their lead, judging by recent patents the company filed with the USPTO, which receives over 500,000 patent applications each year. The patent application includes a method for “generating one digital currency unit by tying the one digital currency unit to a regular currency; storing information of the one digital currency unit into a block of a blockchain; buying or paying the one digital currency unit.”
According to Walmart, having its own cryptocurrency could provide advantages for those consumers who have limited access to banking services. As the company explains, “Using a digital currency, low-income households that find banking expensive, may have an alternative way to handle wealth at an institution that can supply the majority of their day-to-day financial and product needs.”
However, one expert claims that Walmart may have a tough time getting the approval they seek.
As Joe Ciccolo, president of Bitcoin compliance company BitAML, told Forbes: “Walmart has been trying for the better part of the past two decades to obtain a bank charter or license, applying on numerous occasions only to later abandon its application each time. In this pursuit over the years, state and federal lawmakers have raised concerns and otherwise stymied Walmart’s efforts. This seems to mirror the initial response among members of Congress to Facebook’s Libra whitepaper. Regulators and lawmakers clearly have concerns — valid concerns, I might add — about dominate players in one industry (e.g. Walmart in retail, Facebook in social media) entering the financial services industry.”
Walmart doesn’t seem to be deterred, however. They’ve even filed additional patent applications pertaining to “cloning drones using blockchain,” while the company already uses blockchain technology in other areas of its business. For instance, Walmart is using blockchain technology to track produce along its supply chain. But even if the application for its own digital coinage is approved, there may be no obvious signs of Walmart cryptocurrency quite yet. According to an email obtained by Bloomberg from Kory Lundberg, a spokesperson for Walmart, the company doesn’t “have any plans for this patent at this time.”