Crypto-Crime: The SEC and DOJ Go After BitFunder and Its BitFounder

Taking further steps into the world of cryptocurrency, two entities of the federal government recently took legal action against BitFunder, a now-defunct Bitcoin exchange, and its founder, Jon Montroll. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges against BitFunder and Montroll, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan brought criminal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice against Montroll, who was arrested and taken into custody. BitFunder was an exchange that, among other things, empowered its customers to create and trade Bitcoin denominated shares of enterprises. The numerous allegations and charges against the defendants include: Continue Reading

Patent Strategies for Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain Technology

Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology are rapidly emerging as disruptive technologies. As has happened with many new technologies, particularly disruptive ones, a patent arms race is occurring. The number of patents being filed for these technologies is rapidly increasing.

The number of published applications shows roughly a tenfold increase over the number of issued patents.

Despite this increase in patent filing activity, many companies are unaware of what aspects of this technology can be patented and many myths and misconceptions exist. In addition to the usual misconceptions about patents (detailed below), the open source aspect of many blockchain-based inventions leads to greater confusion. The patentability of software and technology platforms does not cease just because some or all of the software is open source or built on a known protocol. Continue Reading

Seeking foreign investors for your tech startup? Congress says, “not so fast.”

The U.S. Congress is currently considering legislation that would tap the brakes on foreign direct investment in the United States, particularly on investments in sensitive industries like artificial intelligence, robotics, and semiconductors. We know: you’re saying we already have that in the form of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (known as CFIUS). Continue Reading

When Does Software Become Securities?

The SEC Munchee Order and Chairman’s Statement

On December 11, 2017, the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued a cease and desist order (“Order”) against Munchee, Inc.’s (“Munchee”) $15 million Initial Coin Offering (“ICO”). The SEC determined that the tokens were investment contracts, and thus securities, primarily because a purchaser of the tokens would have had a reasonable expectation of obtaining a future profit based upon Munchee’s efforts, including Munchee revising its app and creating an “ecosystem” using the proceeds from the sale of the tokens. On the second day of sales of MUN tokens, the company was contacted by SEC staff.  Munchee determined within hours to shut down its offering, did not deliver any tokens to purchasers, and returned to purchasers the proceeds that it had received. For a detailed description of the Order, please see our previous blog post here. The SEC chairman, Jay Clayton, concurrently issued a public statement (“Statement”) expressing his general views on the cryptocurrency and ICO markets. It should be noted that the Order does not have the weight of a federal court decision. Munchee consented to the Order without admitting or denying any of the findings therein. Furthermore, the Statement is personal to the chairman, and “does not reflect the views of any other Commissioner or the Commission.” That said, the Order and the Statement provide us with the SEC’s assessment and chairman’s perspective as to whether ICOs constitute the sale of securities, and how to conduct an ICO without running afoul of securities laws. Continue Reading

Deadline Approaching: Action Required by December 31 To Avoid Losing DMCA Safe Harbor Protection

The U.S. Copyright Office is making changes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbor agent registration process. The changes impact both new online service providers as well as existing online service providers who have already registered an agent. Read on for details about what you will need to do. Continue Reading

At Last! Relaxation of Federal Securities Regulations for Private Company Stock Incentive Awards may be on the Horizon

Many privately held companies rely on equity compensation awards (typically stock options) to recruit, retain and motivate key employees and other service providers.  The issuance of such equity compensation awards generally needs to comply with, among other things, federal securities laws.  Most commonly, private company issuers of equity compensation awards rely on federal Rule 701 which provides an exemption from the registration requirements of the Securities Act of 1933. Continue Reading

The SEC and ICOs: Putting the SEC’s Determination that DAO Tokens are Securities in Context

On July 25, 2017, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued a report (“Report”) detailing its investigation into whether the DAO (an unincorporated “decentralized autonomous organization”), Slock.it UG (“Slock.it”), Slock.it’s co-founders, and intermediaries violated the federal securities laws. The SEC determined that the tokens issued by the DAO are securities under the Securities Act of 1933 (“Securities Act”) and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”), and advised those who would use a distributed ledger or blockchain-enabled means for capital raising to take appropriate steps to comply with the U.S. federal securities laws. However, the SEC decided not to pursue an enforcement action at this time. Continue Reading

SEC Declares That Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) May Be Securities; Finds DAO a Security

The SEC has opined that, depending on the facts and circumstances of each individual ICO, the virtual coins or tokens that are offered or sold may be securities. If they are securities, the offer and sale of these virtual coins or tokens in an ICO are subject to the federal securities laws. Continue Reading

Dear Congress: Your District Needs a New E-4 Visa for Promising Entrepreneurs

Procedural History

In August 2016, the Department of Homeland Security proposed an “International Entrepreneur” parole rule that would allow qualifying foreign entrepreneurs to develop and grow their start-up companies in the United States. After public comment, the rule was finalized and released in the closing days of the previous Administration. Continue Reading

The “Blockchain Amendments” to the Delaware General Corporation Law

Two amendments have been proposed to the Delaware General Corporation Law (the “DGCL”) to permit corporate record keeping utilizing blockchain databases (the “Blockchain Amendments”). Specifically, “stock ledger” is to be defined in Section 219 of the DGCL to include ledgers “administered by or on behalf of the corporation,” in order to permit a record keeping system utilizing blockchain databases. Section 224 of the DGCL is to be similarly amended regarding all corporate records, and provide that such records may be kept on “one or more electronic networks or databases (including one or more distributed electronic networks or databases).” Continue Reading

LexBlog