A new patent filing suggests that United States retail giant Walmart may be developing its own U.S. dollar-backed digital currency similar to Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency. 

Walmart filed patent for “Digital Currency via Blockchain”

Patent filing number 20190236564, “System and Method for Digital Currency via Blockchain,” was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on Aug. 1. The document outlines a method for:

“Generating one digital currency unit by tying the one digital currency unit to a regular currency; storing information of the one digital currency unit into a block of a blockchain; buying or paying the one digital currency unit.”

Walmart continues to outline that the proposed digital currency project can provide a zero-  or low-fee place for users to store wealth; one that can easily be redeemed and converted to store cash at selected retailers or partners. Such accounts could even be interest-bearing, the filing adds.

The digital currency could alternatively be developed so that it can be spent anywhere, the filing states, with prospective USD backing ensuring greater ease of deposits and withdrawals. It could, in another scenario, be tied to other digital currencies, rather than fiat ones.

Corporations becoming alternative banks

Early on in the filing, Walmart proposes that the launch of its digital currency could provide low-income households, for whom banking is costly, with “an alternative way to handle wealth at an institution that can supply the majority of their day-to-day financial and product needs.”

The “blockchain-protected digital currency” — as Walmart dubs it — could further challenge incumbent banks by removing the need for credit and debit cards: 

“The digital currency may act as a pre-approved biometric [...] credit. A person is the ‘credit card’ to their own digital value bank.”

The retailer further imagines that the scope of its digital currency could extend to form part of wider, blockchain-powered service ecosystem, envisioning the creation of an “open-platform value exchange for purchases and for crowdsource work.” 

This would allow customers to buy products or services for themselves and for others — using the platform to hire a technician for repairs, an associate or a designated shopper for a given amount of time.  

While it currently faces a robust regulatory pushback, Facebook’s Libra stablecoin project has a similar ambition to provide low-cost, borderless value transfer and build out a digital currency-powered network.

For Walmart, its blockchain-related projects have to date focused on using the technology in areas such as supply chain management, customer marketplaces and smart appliances.

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