UPDATED 23:50 EDT / AUGUST 21 2016


Rakuten confirms Bitnet acquisition, will set up a blockchain lab in Belfast

Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, Inc. has confirmed that it has acquired the intellectual property assets of enterprise bitcoin payments processor Bitnet Technologies Ltd.

Using the intellectual property (IP) obtained and a number of Bitnet employees, the company also announced that it was  opening a blockchain development lab in the United Kingdom.

The Rakuten Blockchain Lab, to be opened in Belfast, Northern Ireland, will be run by now former Bitnet employees Stephen McNamara and Fergal Downey and will be part of Rakuten’s Ecosystem Services organization under its Technology Division run by Rakuten Executive Officer Fernando Paulo.

“Drawing on the significant IP assets and deep engineering expertise of the Bitnet team and combining that with Rakuten’s leadership in fintech and support of innovative solutions, the new Rakuten Blockchain Lab will be our first step toward unlocking blockchain’s potential to revolutionize the way that financial and e-commerce transactions are conducted,” Rakuten Group Executive Vice President, CIO, CISO and head of the Technology Division Yasufumi Hirai said in a statement.

While not officially confirmed, the move to establish the lab would seemingly mean that Bitnet will cease to trade as a standalone company although at the time of writing its website has made no official announcement.

Bitnet’s blockchain digital asset management platform, which would appear to be at the heart of the Rakuten buy, offers a stack which simplifies the issuance and management of multiple asset types using the Open Asset Protocol to “color” a tiny amount of bitcoin and create a new digital asset that inherits bitcoin characteristics; the platform is said to allow for the easy delivery of custom applications that provide domain-specific rules and behavior.

Moving forward

Rakuten first adopted bitcoin payments in March 2015 and as Japan’s leading e-commerce business (think Amazon.com but in Japan) has shown an ongoing interest in not only bitcoin itself but the development of blockchain based applications.

Bitnet brings a solid platform to the table with the potential to cover multiple verticals, for example, it could be used for the issuance of tamper-proof tickets for a show, management of loyalty programs, or for even tracking the ownership and transfer of shares.

“There are so many great opportunities for blockchain technologies inside Rakuten and the newly created lab will be instrumental in delivering new and innovative solutions” now Rakuten Blockchain Lab Vice President of Engineering Fergal Downey noted, and on every level that is true.

Prior to acquisition, Bitnet has raised $14.5 million over two rounds from investors, including ARTIS Ventures, Blockchain Capital, Buchanan Investments, Commerce Ventures, Digital Currency Group, Highland Capital Partners, Stephens Investment Management, Webb Investment Network, WSM Capital LLC and Rakuten.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/CC by 2.0

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