- Walmart has filed two patents that could allow the retailer to store payments data using blockchain technology, improving security, reported CoinDesk. But they may do far more.
- The two patent applications were published last week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and both mention the use of a blockchain-based platform for vendor payments and digital shopping. The patents were originally submitted on Oct. 13, 2017.
- The patents also would enable the use of behavior-monitoring blockchain technology, and the automatic integration of courier services into online shopping, according to BTCManager. One is for a "courier shopping system," and the other for a "vendor payment sharing system."
Walmart is getting closer to the possible implementation of blockchain technology for payment processing and beyond. While these patents do not point to a creation of a Walmart cryptocurrency, the company is looking to maximize the potential of blockchain, meaning the "distributed ledger" that powers cryptocurrencies, according to the BGR (Boy Genius Report, which grew out of a column in Engadget).
With blockchain, a continuously growing list of records linked and secured by cryptography, there is no one centralized database, or an individual serving as "banker," noted BGR. Blockchain is "the only good part of the crypto technology," according to the report, and Walmart would be wise to leave "the rest to die," referring to attempts to create new cryptocurrencies.
These patents come at a time when retailers around the world are figuring out the best ways to use cryptocurrency and blockchain. For example, China’s JD.com is partnering with six blockchain startups in AI Catapult, an accelerator for the development of artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies. Japan’s Rakuten has launched a "borderless currency," which it calls Rakuten Coin. Walmart, Kroger and various food suppliers have joined with IBM in a blockchain initiative to improve food traceability while testing the technology. Amazon has registered three Internet domain names that relate to blockchain and cryptocurrency.
The two Walmart patents are notable in that they are less technical and are more similar to white papers in their presentation, diving into "philosophical theories of human psychology," said BTCManager, The concept behind the patents appears to justify the proposed behavior monitoring the technology might achieve. By monitoring individual behavior and choices over an extended time, "this new Walmart shopping network hopes to map out its customers' value systems to know what products and services they prefer and how they want it delivered to them," the report said. The patents address the use of artificial intelligence and integration with the Internet of Things. BTCManager called the systems "creepy."
Walmart’s vendor payment system patent proposes the creation of a network able to automatically conduct transactions on behalf of customer, reported CoinDesk, citing the patent application documents. The payments would be received by one vendor or more, depending on what services are provided and who provided them. The second patent application is for digital shopping systems and describes the use of blockchain to encrypt payment information.
What this means is the use of blockchain by U.S. retailers is getting closer and it may not resemble systems in place now that solely focus on cryptocurrency. The blockchain applications will be more far reaching, touching supply chain as well as payment processing, and raising ever new questions about customer privacy, while providing more secure ways of protecting customer data obtained by the retailer.