Craig Wright, an Australian computer scientist who claims to be the inventor of Bitcoin, won a US civil trial verdict Monday against the family of a deceased business partner who claimed it was owed half of a tens of billions-dollar cryptocurrency fortune.
A Florida jury determined that Dr Wright did not owe the family of David Kleiman half of 1.1 million Bitcoin. The jury did award US$100 million ($142 million) in intellectual property rights to a joint venture between the two men, a pittance of the amount sought by Mr Kleiman’s lawyers during the trial.
“This was a tremendous victory for our side,” said Dr Wright’s lead attorney, Andres Rivero of Rivero Mestre LLP.
The trial revolved around 1.1 million Bitcoin, which are currently worth approximately US$50 billion at Monday’s prices.
These were some of the first Bitcoins created through mining and could only be owned by a person or entity that had been involved with the digital currency since its inception, such as Satoshi Nakamoto, its creator.
The cryptocurrency community is now watching to see if Dr Wright keeps his promise to prove he owns the Bitcoin in question. This would lend credence to Dr Wright’s 2016 claim that he is Nakamoto.
The case was highly technical, with the jury hearing explanations of the intricate workings of cryptocurrencies as well as the murky origins of Bitcoin.
Jurors deliberated for an entire week, repeatedly questioning lawyers on both sides as well as the judge about how cryptocurrencies work and the two men’s business relationship. At one point, the jurors indicated to the judge that they had reached a stalemate.
Bitcoin’s origins have always been a bit mysterious, which is why this trial has garnered so much outside attention.
In October 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, a person calling himself “Satoshi Nakamoto” published a paper outlining a framework for a decentralised digital currency unattached to any legal or sovereign authority.
A few months later, mining for the currency began, which involves computers solving mathematical equations.
The name Nakamoto, which loosely translates as “at the heart of,” was never considered to be the true identity of Bitcoin’s creator. Some members of the cryptocurrency community do not believe Nakamoto was even a single person.
The claim by Dr Wright that he is Nakamoto has been met with scepticism by a sizeable portion of the cryptocurrency community. Bitcoin’s structure ensures that all transactions are public, and the 1.1 million Bitcoins in question have remained unaltered since their inception.
Members of the Bitcoin community have repeatedly urged Dr Wright to move a small fraction of the coins into a separate account to establish ownership and demonstrate that he is truly wealthy.
Dr Wright and other cryptocurrency experts testified under oath during the trial that Dr Wright owns the Bitcoins in question. Dr Wright stated that if he were to prevail at trial, he would establish his ownership.
David Kleiman, 46, died in April 2013. His family, led by his brother Ira Kleiman, has asserted that David Kleiman and Dr Wright were close friends and collaborated to create Bitcoin.
Mr Kleiman’s estate sought half of the Bitcoins at issue, as well as intellectual property rights.
The attorneys for W&K Information Defence Research LLC, the two men’s joint venture, expressed “gratification” that the jury awarded the company the US$100 million in intellectual property rights for developing software that laid the groundwork for early blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies.
“Wright refused to give the Kleimans a fair share of the assets that (David Kleinman) helped create and instead kept them for himself,” Vel Freedman and Kyle Roche of Roche Freedman LLP and Andrew Brenner, a partner at Boies Schiller Flexner, said in a joint statement.
Dr Wright’s attorneys have stated repeatedly that while David Kleiman and Dr Wright were friends and collaborated on projects, their collaboration had nothing to do with the creation or early operation of Bitcoin.
Dr Wright has stated that if he is found not guilty, he intends to donate a large portion of his Bitcoin fortune to charity.
Mr Rivero, Dr Wright’s lawyer, confirmed in an interview that Dr Wright intends to donate a large portion of his Bitcoin fortune.