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American Express Thinks Blockchains Could Help Prove Payments

American Express is on the hunt for better ways of proving when transactions occur and a new patent filing suggests the financial services giant may be looking at blockchain as part of a possible solution.

In a patent application released by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last week, American Express Travel Related Services describes using a “blockchain-based system” in order to receive “payment confirmation including a transaction amount and a merchant identifier.”

The concept is aimed at adding to what AmEx calls the “limited” number of options for generating quality evidence that payments happen between merchants and their customers “beyond a receipt or ticket.

AmEx’s patent highlights the tech’s role in retaining “transaction data, contract data, proof-of-payment data, identification data, and/or other information as desired,” with the idea being that a blockchain network – possibly a public one – would serve as an extra layer of proof for transactions that take place on AmEx’s network.

As a result, the potential applications of such a system are quite varied, the company contends.

American Express says that data can be used to “unlock a hotel, rental or shared economy property door using the card (e.g., that was used for the payment) to look up proof of payment on a blockchain.” Moreover, “the system may be leveraged to provide ticketless access to venues (e.g., movie theater, sports event, concert, etc.) to a customer,” and so forth.

While the decision on whether this blockchain system will be hosted on a private, public or consortium network is up for grabs, the application does highlight how “public networks may leverage the cumulative computing power of the network to improve security.”

This patent application by American Express is the latest in a series that have been launched as early as October of last year when the same branch of the company filed for a different patent related to customer rewards.

Fast forward to today and the company has indeed begun initial trials with a custom Membership Rewards program for cardholders, leveraging Hyperledger’s blockchain technology, which it partnered with last January.

Payment terminal image via Shutterstock

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Korean Government-Backed Researchers File for Blockchain Patent

A South Korean government-funded organization has submitted a blockchain-related patent application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), public documents show.

The application, which was submitted by the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) on January 10 of this year, details a blockchain-powered system for managing data that belongs to public organizations.

More specifically, the system, fueled by a number of servers, would record the financial transaction history of a public organization on a blockchain. To boost the system’s reliability, a third-party server is also introduced to the structure as it does “a mathematical operation.”

At the heart of the concept is an effort to boost transparency around information tied to public organizations.

As the application explains:

“An income history or an expenditures history of the public organizations that enforce the national budget and non-profit organizations that raise donations needs to be transparently managed. However, even though there are many possibilities that the server may be attacked or manipulated/tampered internally, it is difficult for ordinary citizens or donors to know the income history and the expenditures history of public organizations.”

Alongside the U.S. patent, ETRI submitted a similar application to the Korean Intellectual Property Office in January 2017.

The application is a notable example of a government-funded organization moving to obtain patent rights around an application of blockchain.

ETRI, according to its official site, was founded in 1976 and is one of the most elite research organizations in the field of telecommunication in South Korea. It’s also an active patent-seeker, its published data shows, with more than 10,000 patent applications submitted thus far.

South Korea flag image via Shutterstock

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Northern Trust Wins Patent for Storing Meeting Minutes on a Blockchain

Financial services firm Northern Trust won a patent Wednesday for a method for backing up records of meetings using blockchain tech.

The method utilizes a series of smart contracts to capture data related to the meeting, including records of who is attending (sourced from devices they might carry), when the meeting took place and where. As previously reported, Northern Trust has been using a private blockchain it created with IBM to capture key data since 2017.

Northern Trust hones in on a very specific use case – event data, essentially – but it speaks to the firm’s wider trend of gathering operational data through a distributed system.

As the filing explains:

“During the meeting, a first smart contract may authenticate and record attendees in the digital meeting record based on biometric information received from the attendees’ devices… a second smart contract may capture in the digital meeting record, meeting actions of each attendee, including date, time, and location associated with the meeting actions. After the meeting, a third smart contract may autopopulate post meeting documentation.”

Northern Trust won a second patent on digital identity management on Wednesday, public records further show. This second patent focuses on generating one-directional cryptographic hashes of reference documents and biometric information.

The two patents work hand-in-hand as the digital meeting records would be tied to a set of digital identity records. The meeting records would also use one or more encryption keys, generating an encrypted version of the records, that is then appended to a blockchain by the network node.

The function aims to “integrate interactions between digital identities within the blockchain, authentication and recording processes using biometric information, document storage in a repository, and one or more smart contracts managing meeting activities in real-time.”

“We have developed a number of blockchain innovations that may be applied to multiple business activities and product offerings, with private equity fund administration being only one example of many potential use cases,” Justin Chapman, global head of market advocacy and innovation research at Northern Trust, said in a statement.

Northern Trust Corporation image via Shutterstock

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