On September 27, 2018, the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) charged an international securities dealer with illegally offering and selling to U.S. investors security-based swaps funded with bitcoins and related violations of the Commodities Exchange Act. The broker, 1pool Ltd., a.k.a. 1Broker, and its CEO, Patrick Brunner, were both named in the complaint filed by the SEC with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  Continue Reading SEC and CFTC Charge a Bitcoin-Funded International Securities Dealer

On September 9, 2018, the SEC announced the temporary trading suspension of two securities known as Bitcoin Tracker One (“CXBTF”) and Ether Tracker One (“CETHF”). According to the SEC’s order, the broker-dealer application materials submitted to enable the offer and sale of these products in the United States, as well as certain trading websites, characterize them as “Exchange Traded Funds.” According to the SEC, other public sources characterize the instruments as “Exchange Traded Notes.” By contrast, the SEC observed that the issuer of these securities characterizes them in its offering materials as “non-equity linked certificates.” CXBTF and CETHF are listed and traded on the NASDAQ/OMX in Stockholm and have recently been quoted on OTC Link (formerly known as the “pink sheets”) in the U.S. The SEC temporarily suspended trading in these securities in light of apparent confusion among market participants regarding the characteristics of these instruments. Continue Reading SEC Acts Over Weekend to Suspend Trading in Certain Crypto Stocks

As we previously reported, in May 2018, more than 40 state and provincial securities regulators in the United States and Canada launched a coordinated enforcement sweep of the ICO market dubbed “Operation Cryptosweep.” On August 28, 2018, the North American Securities Administrators Association (“NASAA”) published a press release with an update on the progress of this initiative. According to NASAA, more than 200 active investigations of ICOs and cryptocurrency-related investment products are currently underway, and blue sky regulators have brought 46 enforcement actions to date. Continue Reading NASAA Updates Status of “Operation Cryptosweep”

A recent settled SEC enforcement action against an ICO issuer (the “Company”) and its promoter calls into question the viability of the “airdrop” model of distributing digital tokens to investors. In the ICO context, an “airdrop” generally refers to the widespread distribution of digital tokens to community members either for free or in exchange for performing menial tasks. Whether such a distribution model runs afoul of the federal securities laws has been the subject of much debate in recent months, and the SEC’s case provides additional insight into their analysis of the issue. While a narrow path for airdrops may remain, the case will significantly curtail their current use. Continue Reading SEC Brings Enforcement Case Involving “Airdrop” of Securities

On August 9, 2018, the World Bank issued a press release highlighting what it described as the “World’s First Blockchain Bond.” It will be issued in Australia and, according to news reports, will be called a BONDI—both in honor of the famous Australian beach and also a clever acronym for “Blockchain Offered New Debt Instrument.” The issue size is approximately AUD $100 million (about USD $74 million).

Current regulations in the United States limit the ability of securities to trade exclusively over a blockchain, but over time we believe they will become more commonplace as the rules and market practice adapt. More fundamentally, there is a huge potential in blockchain to disrupt the current U.S. trading and settlement process that developed after the paperwork crisis of the early 1970s and is now based on a decades-old business model.

On August 6, 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) published a notice seeking public comment as to whether broad-based changes in the economy, evolving business practices, new technologies or international developments might require adjustments to competition and consumer protection law, enforcement priorities and policy. The notice, published in the Federal Register, does not specifically mention blockchain or distributed ledger technology specifically, but the broad list of topics that the FTC lists as areas in which it seeks comments could easily accommodate market developments due to the emergence of blockchain technology and related applications.  Continue Reading FTC to Commence Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century

In a terse press release issued July 26, 2018, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (“FINMA”) announced that it has launched enforcement proceedings against an ICO issuer based on evidence that the company may have “breached financial market law.” According to FINMA, the proceedings focus in particular on possible breaches of Swiss banking law resulting from the potentially unauthorized acceptance of public deposits. FINMA noted that, in the context of its ICO, the subject company “accepted funds amounting to approximately one hundred million francs from more than 30,000 investors in return for issuing EVN tokens in a bond-like form.” Continue Reading Switzerland Announces ICO Enforcement Action

On July 16, 2018, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) issued a customer advisory on digital tokens. Citing various studies and reports, the advisory identified high rates of fraud in some initial coin offerings, and warned investors to be on the lookout for the following risks associated with investing in digital tokens:

  • The potential for forks in open-source applications that could split away market participants, increase the number of digital coins or make coins obsolete.
  • Decrease in mining or validation costs (if price is tied to those factors).
  • Acceptance of other currencies, coins or tokens for offered goods and services.
  • The link between the value of a digital coin or token and the offered product or service.
  • Adoption of the digital coin or token as a broad medium of exchange or store of value.
  • Future competitors or technological changes that could disrupt the underlying business.
  • Future demand or uses for an application, network, product or service.
  • Liquidity in the market for a specific digital coin or token.
  • Changes to the underlying technology that could devalue digital coins or tokens.
  • Risk of theft from hacking.

The CFTC has largely ceded enforcement authority for digital tokens that are securities to the Securities and Exchange Commission, but the advisory reminds readers that “digital tokens and coins can also be derivatives or commodities, depending on how they are structured.”

On July 11, 2018, in an emergency cease and desist order, the Texas securities commissioner took action against several individuals and affiliated companies based in Utah to halt the offering of unregistered cryptocurrency mining investments to Texas residents. The order alleges numerous violations of the registration and antifraud provisions of the Texas Securities Act.  Continue Reading Texas Shuts Down Offering of Interests in Cryptocurrency Mining Businesses

In the race to develop blockchain technology, companies are increasingly devoting capital to creating proprietary blockchain solutions. A search of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (“USPTO”) as of today returns 343 patent applications that contain either “blockchain” or “distributed ledger” in the abstract. Patents are being filed related to a wide variety of industries and applications, including supply chain management, autonomous deliveries, energy networks, electronic health records, 3D printing, travel itinerary management, data security and securing rights to digital media. Continue Reading Major Companies Are Quietly Amassing Blockchain Patents Across Industries