Bitcoin utilizes a proof-of-work mechanism to assure against double-spending, as well as providing an example opensource implementation. However, some countries allow software patents, which could mean that one person/company has the ability to suddenly prevent the legal use of Satoshi Nakamoto's Bitcoin algorithms.

Are these Bitcoin algorithms complex enough to qualify for being patentable, and if so, in what countries might such patents be granted? Does this pose a significant legal risk for users of Bitcoin?

5 Answers 5


To claim a patent you must be able to prove against contest that you invented the device, and have a working example that if built to the specs provided, runs.

As it was this Satoshi who invented bitcoin, and there are prior examples of a digital currency, it would be very hard for any one person to claim a patent so far after the fact. Some one could try, but the patent industry is built to make it hard to write a patent, easy to contest. Admitedly many companies do just that and are good at it, but anyone patenting bitcoin would have a hell of a time proving first invent.

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    Given that there are a few details such as known public key for Satoshi, couldn't he/she prove invention and thus patent it? While given the little we know about Satoshi, it seems unlikely; what if for some reason Satoshi decided the whole thing had not turned out as desired and wished to reign it in? Also, Satoshi may have unknowingly infringed some patents. It seems relevant to the question to ask 'what could such a patent holder do'? Commented Sep 15, 2011 at 14:17
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    @JulianNoble AFAIK you have a certain grace period(a year or so) for filing a patent after publishing what you want to patent. So unless he already filed the patent, it should be too late now. Commented Feb 25, 2012 at 14:00
  • It's in no way easy to contest a patent. It's a quite expensive process.
    – Christian
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 11:43

It would be impossible to patent the Bitcoin-protocol as a whole, but it is possible to patent new codes before integrating them into the Bitcoin protocol.

A good example are the patents made by Blockstream. 2015/2016

US Patent : US20160358165A1

US Patent : US20160330034A1

So imagine this new codes are integrated in the Bitcoin protocol, and somebody later wants to do a fork of the new bitcoin protocol. Blockstream know has the IP ownership to this new codes inside the bitcoin protocol. They can claim a payment for licence or forbit the fork. It depents on Blockstream if they want to use this patents to make money.


While what @Evil has said could be theoretically true, in practice often happens that random people patent random stuff "just because they can", and then it will have to be settled on court (with all the related problems).

  • While true, I imagine it would be fairly difficult for someone besides Satashi Nakamoto to make even even a somewhat plausible claim of inventorship since he the original description of Bitcoin is publicly available. Commented Sep 15, 2011 at 13:58
  • @Michael: sadly it doesn't matter if it plausible or even patentable, they can file it anyway, and it will be accepted anyway.
    – o0'.
    Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 7:22
  • Well yes they can file even the most ridiculous of patents, but are you telling me that the patent examiners won't even bother doing a simple Google search to attempt to verify novelty? Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 13:35
  • @Michael: sadly, yes.
    – o0'.
    Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 15:23
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    while its true that when filing a patent, the examiners do little to know research, and don't really care. A challenged patent is looked at closely by many parties, and frequently has to be decided fairly by a judge.
    – Evil Spork
    Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 16:15

The Bitcoin algorithm is a mathematical equation with the block as the answer to the problem. Showing proof-of-work is the foundation of all math and science. Ask any math teacher. Whether or not it is to assure against double spending is a matter of (popular) opinion and is not an absolute 100% certainty. If a particular algorithm is somehow patented, then it would require a hard fork of the Bitcoin block chain to slightly change the algorithm. There are as many opinions about how Bitcoin should work as there are programmers and no shortage of ways it can be forked if absolutely necessary.


As long as the Bitcoin project is open source it would be very hard to claim a copyright on that code which is freely available for copying.

Now if someone wanted to copyright a derivative work then that is possible.

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    Copyright has nothing to do with patents. Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 17:03

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