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PATENT DROP: Mastercard sees double
Plus: Neuralink gets in your head; Microsoft’s team effort
Happy Monday and welcome to Patent Drop!
This morning, we’re taking a look at MasterCard’s tech that could make getting cash for crypto much easier (and a whole lot more ubiquitous). Plus, Neuralink wants to make it easier to get inside your head, and Microsoft is making cybersecurity everyone’s job.
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Let's take a peek.
#1. Mastercard’s two chains
Mastercard wants to make it easier to turn crypto into cash (and vice versa).
The credit card giant is seeking to patent a system for the “conversion of digital assets to fiat currency.” The foundation of this tech is a process that Mastercard calls “mirrored accounting,” or mirroring a transaction onto a second record to ensure a “reliable and auditable conversion” by essentially creating an immutable receipt of it.
To break it down, this system first receives transaction data consisting of a payer identifier, recipient identifier, and blockchain currency amount, and validates that the entities involved are authorized to make these transactions. The system then determines the payout (a.k.a., how much your crypto is worth).
Then, an identical transaction is generated on a second blockchain, and the validation process happens again. Once that transaction is confirmed, the recipient gets their payout, “without the need for an exchange and in a manner that is more trustworthy and efficient.”
Mastercard said this system bypasses the need for conversions to go through a conventional crypto exchange, which it said are “not regulated institutions and do not have to provide any transparency or accountability, which can result in merchants being taken advantage of or being apprehensive to accept digital asset payments due to the difficulties and dangers in converting their assets to fiat currency.”
To put it lightly, cryptocurrency companies had a really bad year last year. Some of the most notable to collapse include FTX, which faced a liquidity crisis in November and soon after filed for bankruptcy, Voyager Digital, which filed for bankruptcy in July, and Genesis Global, which filed for bankruptcy in January after reporting stark losses in 2022.
The crypto market overall has yet to recover from last year’s crash. But traditional financial institutions like Mastercard taking an interest in the tech could be the credibility that the industry needs to get back on its feet, said Aaron Rafferty, co-founder at StandardDAO.
“The crypto market in general lost a lot of credibility with the FTX collapse,” said Rafferty. “But there is going to be a move toward the space … MasterCard clearly has a vision on that. I think you had to really snuff out some of the bad players before that could really happen.”
Along with restoring crypto’s credibility, this patent’s tech could revitalize crypto adoption by specifically helping merchants, Jordan Gutt, head of Web 3.0 tech at The Glimpse Group, told me. By removing crypto exchanges from the equation, Gutt said, this patent could allow merchants to accept digital assets and seamlessly convert them into another currency.
“This would be most advantageous to the merchants on the MasterCard network,” Gutt said. “It cuts out that middleman of the exchange, which could be complicated, or a system they don't necessarily trust, or just risky in general.”
MasterCard has been interested in blockchain for a while now. In February, the company debuted plans to allow its merchants to receive and settle digital asset transactions by the end of the year. And last week, the company announced that it’s in talks with a host of different banks and fintechs on a digital asset credit card with a way to convert crypto to traditional fiat currency. This patent could offer a deeper look into it’s blockchain ambitions.
While spending resources on blockchain isn’t the hottest take in the tech world at the moment, MasterCard is taking advantage of a bad situation. By investing in new tech when the market is down, Gutt said, the company is seemingly “positioning themselves to make the most out of the next bull run.”
“It's a signal that more reputable entities are getting involved because they don't want to be left behind,” Gutt added.
#2. Neuralink’s brain buster
Neuralink wants to get a better look inside your head. Yes, I’m being literal.
The Elon Musk-owned brain chip company is seeking to patent a method for an “automatic craniotomy” milling system – basically, a machine that precisely performs the surgery of opening the skull. Rather than a surgeon performing this surgery, this machine is operated by a controller that sets the “feed rate,” or how fast the tool is going.
This machine relies on data from two types of sensors: an impedance measurement system (which checks the patient’s response to an electrical current) and an axial force sensor (which senses how much force the machine is using to cut through certain parts of the cranium). Coupled together, these measurements determine the feed rate in response to these measurements.
Neuralink said that traditional craniotomy is often “a time-consuming and high-risk procedure, in part due to the reliance on manual cutting or drilling procedures to create the surgical perforation of the cranium.”
“Neurological implant devices are typically not size adjustable and must securely fit within the craniotomy location to prevent the intracranial structures remaining exposed after implantation,” Neuralink noted. “As such, there is little tolerance for human-caused inaccuracies in the craniotomy procedure.”
Neuralink’s patent offers a lot of technical advantages, said Dr. Georgios Matis, PhD, neurosurgery consultant and head of the Pain/Spasticity department at University Cologne Hospital. Not relying on a doctor’s technical skill in an extremely delicate process improves accuracy and alleviates the risk of human error present in almost any surgery. And a machine which, in real-time, automatically takes measurements into account that would typically be done by hand could allow for a much faster surgery, and could lessen the risk of brain bleeds, seizures, swelling or strokes, he said.
“It seems to be an innovative approach that could contribute to better outcomes,” Matis said in an email. “I am sure many colleagues will be willing to test this technology. However, as with all new patents, it should be widely clinically evaluated.”
Neuralink is inching closer and closer to human trials of its brain-computer interface devices. The company’s request to start clinical trials was first rejected by the FDA in 2022, Reuters reported in March, with the agency highlighting safety concerns related to things like the device’s lithium battery, whether its wires could migrate to other parts of the brain, and the safety of getting the device removed.
However, last week, the company announced that it’s been approved by the agency to conduct its first clinical trial on humans, which Neuralink called an “important first step that one day will allow our technology to help many people.” The company reportedly has investors excited, too: According to Reuters, it reached a valuation of $5 billion.
But the company has a long road ahead of it, Matis said. Neuralink faces a laundry list of barriers that stand in the way of making its chips a widespread reality, he said, including the cost of development, time constraints and labor, proving the product is safe, and the ethical considerations of a device that has the potential to fundamentally change human to human connection.
“It will probably take years (at best) or decades (most probably) till the existing & future research can be safely & with credibility turned into an implantable medical device with no or extremely limited technical problems/limitations, low energy consumption & proven clinical outcomes,” Matis said.
#3. Microsoft’s hive mind
Microsoft wants to make cybersecurity a team effort.
The company wants to patent tech that detects when a device that’s part of a network is on the fritz. This tech uses what Microsoft calls a “hive-mind approach” to detect a dysfunctional device, analyzing the behavioral information of neighboring devices in the network to tell if one is doing anything out of the ordinary.
Essentially, devices in a network are in charge of keeping each other in check. If neighboring devices pick up that one device in a network isn’t “alive, active, and reporting” its behavior information (a.k.a telemetry data that determines if a device is working properly), they will relay this information to the system. Based on one or multiple reports, the device is marked as abnormal, and is investigated further.
Devices may be dysfunctional for several reasons, Microsoft noted, including hardware failures, misconfigured or tampered-with software, and malicious attacks. The company’s patent filing also outlines “anomaly detection logic,” which uses machine learning to differentiate between malicious and non-malicious abnormal behavior.
Traditional monitoring methods, which rely on teams to monitor device behavior by looking just at reported data, are “prone to error when a device is alive but stops reporting on its status and health.”
“Conventional approaches for identifying abnormal or potentially harmful behavior within an enterprise network remain deficient,” Microsoft noted.
If Microsoft’s patent activity is any indication, the company is very interested in getting security right. The company has sought patents for cloud tenant cyberattack prevention, remote biometric authentication and even computer vision-based airport security technologies.
A lot of Microsoft’s security-related patents have to do with keeping one very important thing safe: its cloud network. Makes sense, right? Microsoft Azure boasts thousands of personal and commercial clients, including 95% of Fortune 500 companies. Cyberattacks, specifically related to major companies, could deeply damage customer trust in Azure, potentially driving them to competitors like Google Cloud or AWS.
That said, Azure has suffered a number of vulnerabilities over the years. In August 2021, researchers discovered a flaw in an Azure database which had left the data of thousands of customers exposed for around two years. And in January, a cybersecurity firm discovered four more vulnerabilities which posed a risk of exposure. While all of these have since been patched, Microsoft may be keen on avoiding these missteps in the future.
Cloud computing represents a massive moneymaker for Microsoft. In the most recent quarter, the company’s Intelligent Cloud unit brought in $22.1 billion, up 16% year over year. Within this, Azure and other cloud services saw a 27% bump in revenue growth compared to the previous year’s quarter. Overall, its cloud business made up more than 40% of its sales for the quarter.
Cloud security is all the more crucial as the data needed for rapid AI development relies on massive cloud capacity. With competitors like Amazon and Google in the space, getting it right could be a determining factor in who remains ahead in the AI arms race.
We’ve got some more to share.
Adobe wants to get its cues correct. The company wants to patent tech that detects “audio-visual cues” from videos. For example, a certain gesture or word could be the trigger for motion graphics or other video effects to kick in.
Google wants to fix your mis-clicks. The company is working on machine learning that can predict when a user wants to cancel a stream or a download.
EA is putting players on equal ground. The company wants to patent tech that detects “high-skilled entities in low-level matches of an online (game)” to make sure certain players don’t have “unfair advantages.”
What else is new?
Spotify is laying off 200 employees, roughly 2% of the company, as the company changes it’s approach to podcasting.
Thousands of British Airways and Boots employees were told that their personal information may have been compromised in a cyberattack relating to payroll provider Zellis.
Google is rolling out Passkeys to it’s business customers in Cloud and Workspaces in beta.