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

While ICO issuers have understandably been focused recently on the latest pronouncements from the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and other regulators, a second group of potential litigants has largely avoided notice. Seeing a potential bonanza, private plaintiffs law firms have become aggressive in soliciting disgruntled investors as clients and filing lawsuits against issuers of digital tokens. Continue Reading Private Plaintiff Lawyers Are Actively Targeting ICOs

The Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and Commodities Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) are not the only U.S. government agencies exerting regulatory jurisdiction over initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) and cryptocurrencies. In an article written by Hunton Andrews Kurth lawyers in Crowdfund Insider, Richard Garabedian and Shaswat Das discuss the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s (“FinCEN’s”) guidance, enforcement actions and related compliance issues. In 2013, FinCEN, a bureau of the U.S. Department of Treasury, began issuing guidance on virtual currency, explicitly stating that virtual currency exchangers and administrators are money transmitters and must comply with the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) and related regulations. Most recently, on February 13, 2018, FinCEN sent a letter to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden that sought to clarify its role as a regulator of virtual currencies and ICOs. In the letter, FinCEN asserted that individuals involved in certain ICOs must register as money services businesses (“MSBs”) and consequently comply with the corresponding BSA and anti-money laundering (“AML”) compliance requirements. The FinCEN letter notes that ICOs that are otherwise regulated by the SEC or CFTC should comply with the AML and related requirements imposed by those agencies. Despite this attempt at clarifying the state of regulatory play for ICOs and virtual currencies, federal and state MSB registration requirements remain fluid and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis for ICOs and those issuing cryptocurrencies. Continue Reading AML and Sanctions Compliance Issues Facing Cryptocurrency Companies

Last week, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton gave an interview during which he provided his thoughts on initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) and cryptocurrencies. He applauded the “incredible promise” of distributed ledger technology as a driver of efficiencies, and also attempted to clarify the SEC’s position on its role in regulating ICOs and token offerings. Continue Reading SEC Chairman Jay Clayton Interviewed on ICOs and Cryptocurrencies

North American Securities Administrators Association (“NASAA”) members from more than 40 jurisdictions across the United States and Canada are working together in “Operation Cryptosweep,” a coordinated series of enforcement actions to crack down on fraudulent initial coin offerings (“ICOs”), cryptocurrency-related investment products and the individuals behind them.  NASAA organized a task force of its members in April 2018 to begin these coordinated investigations, which identified hundreds of ICOs in the final stages of pre-launch preparation and other cryptocurrency-related investment products.

Continue Reading Operation Cryptosweep: Regulators in the United States and Canada Crack Down on ICOs