As the fluctuating bitcoin market has everyone talking, new research has thrown light on which companies are the leading filers of patents related to blockchain, the technology which underpins the world’s best known cryptocurrency, but whose application could extend to multiple different sectors. Among the leaders are the giant financial institutions Bank of America (which takes the top spot with 43 patents) and Fidelity (which boasts 14 grants), payments leader Mastercard (joint second with 27) and, by far the leading tech player, IBM (another sharing second with 27 patents).

It’s perhaps not surprising that the biggest financial institutions dominate the list of largest blockchain patent owners, but according to the research by Envision IP it is start-ups and other companies focused on developing applications for the technology that have the edge on Wall Street and the largest tech players. Envision claims that these specialists own 59% of the US patents and published applications in the sector, comfortably ahead of financial institutions which have 20% of grants and filings and up on the traditional technology sector which owns around 13%. The digital currency exchange Coinbase leads the way among the specialists with 13 patents followed by the likes of Monegraph, Digital Asset Holdings and SKUChain Inc.

The research shows that for all its promise, and the amount of media attention it has received, in patent terms blockchain remains in its very early stages. Envision identified a little over 1,000 grants and applications in the US, so the universe of IP is relatively small. It is particularly notable that some of largest tech players, such as Google and Microsoft, own only a handful of grants, despite being among the most active patent filers overall. That might change if the tech giants ramp up their own patenting activities and also turn their attention to acquiring the growing bank of blockchain specialists.

The research comes as IP experts are starting to explore the possibilities of using blockchain technology within the patent space. Late last year, for example, Erich Spangenberg announced the launch of IPwe, a new blockchain-based platform designed to increase transparency in the patent market and evaluate patent quality more accurately. In November, meanwhile, Marathon Patent Group announced the acquisition of cryptocurrency mining business Global Bit Ventures.

Such moves are part of a broader trend among IP value creation specialists, and some of the world’s largest patent-owning companies, which have realized that advances in areas like blockchain and artificial intelligence promise to have a profound impact on things such as valuation. All of which suggests that patenting activity in blockchain is well worth keeping an eye on in the next few years.