An interesting patent application… Neal Kin, Vladimir Oksman, and Charles Bry file an application for an encryption patent application. All three individuals deny a connection to Satoshi Nakamoto, the alleged originator of the Bitcoin concept. Those familiar with the world’s first cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, know that there’s near universal consensus that “Satoshi Nakamoto” doesn’t exist. Instead, a worldwide guessing game has sprung up over who’s behind the Nakamoto handle.
The three inventors listed on patent #20100042841 are Neal King, Vladimir Oksman, Charles Bry, and all three have filed numerous patent applications over the years.
Neal King (he also goes by Neal J. King from Munich, Germany) is listed on a number of patent applications, notably “UPDATING AND DISTRIBUTING ENCRYPTION KEYS” (#20100042841) and “CONTENTION ACCESS TO A COMMUNICATION MEDIUM IN A COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK” (#20090196306), both of which seem Bitcoin-y to me.
In an article by Fast Company titled, “The Bitcoin Crypto-Currency Mystery Reopened“, Adam Penenberg continues to dig:
Now take a look at the domain bitcoin.org. It was registered three days later.
Now that is one hell of a coincidence. What are the odds that a phrase in Nakamoto’s Bitcoin paper would be replicated in a patent application filed the same year? Further, what are the odds the domain name for Bitcoin would have been registered 72 hours after the patent application was filed?
Charles Bry, who also resides in Munich, has filed several applications, many dealing with nodes and networks.
Vladamir Oksman, who lives in the U.S., has several patent applications, too, and they too seem related to networks, nodes.
I found another patent application that lists the three of them as inventors, filed June 2008–two months before the Bitcoin.org domain was registered.
“Abstract One embodiment of the present invention relates to a method for key management in a communications network. In this method, a public key authentication scheme is carried out between a security controller and a plurality of nodes to establish a plurality of node-to-security-controller (NSC) keys. The NSC keys are respectively associated with the plurality of nodes and are used for secure communication between the security controller and the respective nodes.”
Could that also be related to Bitcoin?
Now, another coincidence: The Bitcoin.org domain was registered by a Finnish provider, based in Helsinki.
Charles Bry traveled to Finland in late 2007, six months before the domain was registered. In addition, Bry, who is a senior system engineer, lists German, English, French, and Italian as languages he speaks, and went to college in Paris. He works for a company called Lantiq.
Then there’s Neal J. King, and there are more oddities. A Neal J. King has a Facebook page that is sketchy with personal information, yet if you search for “Neal J. King” in Facebook’s search box, his profile doesn’t pop up. His wall is filled with posts about the recent Wall Street protests, banking, and criticism of the Patriot Act. Keep scrolling down and he “likes” blau.de, a German mobile phone sim card site. He also claims highbrow taste in literature and books, and it seems he’s an avid reader, having reviewed 46 books on Amazon–many deal with astronomy, biology, cryptography, linguistics, literature, mathematics, philosophy and physics. I read through his reviews, and his writing is excellent. Very clean. No typos. His sentences are elegant yet there are no extra words. The writing style reminds me of Satoshi Nakamoto’s posts in the Bitcoin Forum minus British spellings, which, as I noted above, I believe is a canard.
Vladamir Oksman is listed on LinkedIn as having worked as a technical marketing director for semiconductor company Lantiq.
Here’s another subtle connection, and I’m not sure what it means. If you google “Vladimir Oksman bitcoin” you get a handful of results, including his LinkedIn profile, a patent application listing him as an inventor, and his resume. Yet “bitcoin” does not appear on any of these pages. When I checked cached versions of the first two results, it said, “These search terms are highlighted: vladimir oksman. These terms only appear in links pointing to this page: bitcoin.”
So the word “bitcoin” appears in links pointing to this page? Why? I tried this with the two other inventors on the “Updating And Distributing Encryption Keys invention” patent. “Neal King Bitcoin” gets you two useless results, and neither have links with bitcoin pointing to their pages. ‘”Charles Bry Bitcoin” has zero results.
In conclusion, each of the three inventors listed on the patents can be circumstantially tied to Bitcoin. A fairly obscure phrase from the Bitcoin paper leads to a patent application that explores a similar technical topic and was filed that same year. The bitcoin.org doman was registered three days after the patent application was filed. The three inventors seem to have the skills, and King’s writing shares similarities with Nakamoto’s, as do his interests.
But are they Satoshi Nakamoto? I showed my research, including the patents, to several computer security professionals–ranging from experts in cryptogaphraphy to network analysis pros–and there was a wide range of opinions. Meanwhile Charles Bry denies that he and/or his co-inventors are related in any way to Bitcoin: “I hope I do not disappoint you too much by saying that I am not Satoshi Nakamoto, nor am I associated with him or with Bitcoin in any way. I believe I can state with absolute certainty the same of the other co-authors of our cryptography patents.” I also messaged Vladamir Oksman through LinkedIn, and he replied with a terse “Wrong person.”
Neal J. King offered the most detailed response. He said the technical topics between his patent application and Bitcoin, “are very different, excepting that both relate to authentication to some extent.” He claims he “had never heard of Bitcoin until this question came up,” and had to look up Bitcoin on Wikipedia, concluding that, “It’s not a very good idea: Nakamoto’s algorithm is a solution in search of a problem.” He finds fault with the lack of a guaranteed value for Bitcoins. “As long as people want to play the game, they can pretend that a Bitcoin has value, but if someone refuses to accept it, you can’t make him; and it would be seriously unwise for him to accept it.” He contrasts this with the U.S. dollar, which “also has no intrinsic value” but since it can be used to pay taxes it can be used to settle debt. “If the U.S. government loses the ability to enforce payment obligation on that person, a $1 bill will also have no value beyond the paper.”
He concludes: “So whether I have dazzled you with my insight, or baffled you with my obtuseness, I think you will agree that no one who would write the paragraphs above would have invested the considerable amount of time Nakamoto spent elaborating the Bitcoin concept.”
I didn’t find his argument particularly persuasive. For one, it begs credulity that someone who has filed patent applications dealing with cryptography had never heard of Bitcoin until I asked about it. That would be like a journalist claiming he never heard of Twitter. And just because a currency is accepted by a government to settle taxes doesn’t mean its citizens will continue to believe in its value. When a currency suffers hyperinflation–like in Zimbabwe, for example–people adopt other currencies, namely the dollar or euro. And recall that Joe Klein, who was eventually outed as “Anonymous,” the author of Primary Colors–that oh-so-mid-1990s literary mystery–also initially denied writing the book.
But the point of this column isn’t to claim we found Satoshi Nakamoto. It’s to show how circumstantial evidence, which is what the New Yorker based its conclusions on, isn’t synonymous with truth. I doubt the New Yorker found the right guy. I also believe that our evidence is far more compelling, yet we also probably haven’t nailed it either. In fact, we may have to wait a Deep Throat length of time before we ever find out who the real Nakamoto is, and by then it might not matter.
In the end, Nakamoto’s greatest, uncrackable code might be his own identity. In Davis’s New Yorker article he describes the impenetrable nature of Nakamoto’s code. Every time his computer security researcher thought he found a hole, he would discover a taunting message from Nakamoto indicating it had already been patched. It was, Davis said, like a thief tunneling under a bank only to discover that someone had poured concrete into his path “with a sign telling him to go home.”
Just like Davis, I found all this information that pointed directly to someone, but in the end I ran into a brick wall, albeit accompanied by far more gentler denials.
Adam L. Penenberg is a journalism professor at NYU and a contributing writer to Fast Company. Follow him on Twitter: @penenberg.
Newsweek did a story on who they had pegged as the real Satoshi Nakamoto in 2014 titled ‘The Face Behind Bitcoin‘, but their candidate, Dorian Nakamoto, seems unlikely. A denial would be expected even if he was the man behind the mask, but his response certainly makes it seem unlikely. Here is his response to the Newsweek article: