MasterCard patent reveals potential bitcoin incorporation

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In a patent filed on June 19, credit card industry giant MasterCard hinted at a potential future adoption of bitcoin as a payment method. The patent, which outlines a “global shopping cart and a method for its use,” isn’t specific to bitcoin, and only mentions the cryptocurrency a handful of times, but it does clearly indicate that bitcoin is on the company’s radar for future payment methods.

The patent places bitcoin and other virtual currencies in a transaction category that includes general barter, social media credits, coupons and automated clearing house (ACH) payments. As defined in the filing, the MasterCard system would connect to other payment system APIs and wallets, allowing cross currency-like payments for PayPal, Google Wallet, Amazon and other proprietary money-like systems. “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.”

Although the filing is interesting, it doesn’t guarantee that MasterCard has any plan to create such a payment system. In the corporate technology world, such patents are often filed to stake a claim on an area likely to be explored by other companies. With PayPal, Google, Facebook and Amazon all exploring the concept of a digital wallet system capable of incorporating multiple forms of currency, MasterCard’s patent may simply represent an attempt to block other parties from creating a competing technology, or to protect MasterCard from paying licensing fees should one of those systems come online.

The patent filing also sheds some light on recent reports that MasterCard has been lobbying Congress for greater regulation and recognition for bitcoin and other digital currency innovations.

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