Symbiont has registered the term 'Smart Securities'

It's an interesting time in the developing world of enterprise blockchains. On the face of it commonality and co-operation are the order of the day; a prerequisite to making a shared ledger system work among financial institutions.

But beneath is a scrum of startups guarding their special sauces, vying for supremacy in the race to implement a protocol upgrade of the financial system.

To some extent battle lines were drawn recently with the announcement by the fintech company R3 CEV, that nine major global banks have signed up to its programme to find common standards and protocols on which to construct a shared ledger system. R3 has said it is open to partnerships with startups going forward.

Mark Smith, the outspoken CEO of Symbiont welcomed the R3 news, saying it was great for the ecosystem as a whole.

He said: "This announcement further validates what we at Symbiont have been saying for two years.

"In 2013, I was the only one screaming about how transformative this technology will be, but now this validation is being voiced by the biggest banks in the world."

"We are working with many of the same institutions on real world applications of our smart contracts and permissioned ledger product.

"Symbiont is the only real smart contract company in the ecosystem with a live product that is solving real problems in capital markets."

Symbiont grew out of the Counterparty project, which in turn provided support for Overstock's Medici project during its early stages. Several developers went on to leave Medici and later established Symbiont.

The management team consists of Adam Krellenstein, who is chief technology officer, along with core developers Robby Dermody and Evan Wagner.

Symbiont is backed by a host of Wall Street heavyweights, including former NYSE chief Duncan Niederauer and former co-head of trading at Citadel, Matt Andresen.

Smith isn't backward about coming forward: "We are the only company in this ecosystem who have our own permissioned ledger operational.

"And we are the first and only company in history to ever issue a smart contract on the Bitcoin blockchain and we did that back in August in front of a live studio audience of media and members of our ecosystem at Capco's iLab."

Smith said he wanted to dispel the myth that smart contracts could not be done on the Bitcoin blockchain. He also wanted the firm's founder shares as securities to be publicly auditable.

"You can use any third party block viewer and you can go on to the Bitcoin blockchain and you can go search the block where our transactions are and you can see right there for yourself that we issued those securities and they were issued as smart contracts."

Smith has actually registered the trademark "smart securities" to identify Symbiont's brand of financial smart contracts.

Symbiont's proprietary system uses a translation layer which speaks to any disparate system with a common unified language.

"We created our own translator which we call Babel Fish and it speaks to all the underlying protocols in their language.

"Above that on our proprietary stack we have our smart contracts server which we have developed on our own.

"I can't give you the details because that's part of the special sauce, but what you need to know is that the smart contract system doesn't know about the underlying ledger.

"It just knows it's creating a contract which is really a financial instrument and then it speaks to the translation layer which then in turn allows it to be put on the different types of ledgers."

Smith said unlike other systems, specifically tokenised systems, Symbiont has been able to put all the information about that instrument in the smart contract itself.

He said firms like Overstock and Digital Asset Holdings are using tokens "which are just not flexible enough and are not going to be successful in financial markets".

"All you can track is the balance. You then have to link to an external database which is centralised and managed by a trusted third party and you have to trust them that that the token represents the asset."

Smith said the terms and conditions of Symbiont's smart securities can be added through a user interface like a simple wizard.

"You put in the issue was Jan 1 2015, the maturity date is December 31 2025, and the annual coupon payment at 5%. Those are the high level terms of this particular debt instrument."

The security is then connected with the market data feed which sends a sort of heartbeat message to the atomic clock in this instance, continually sending it the date and time.

It recognises that date at which the semi-annual coupon payment is due and then calculates and pays the dollar amount to all the addresses' balances from a wallet across the ledger, which is booked in and is immutable to the owners of those securities.

Any variability or change to the security (say Libor has changed by 25 basis points and therefore the agreed payment will be less) is approached using a hierarchical system of cryptographic keys and auditable messages added to the blockchain.

Smith said from a liability or regulatory compliance point of view, you can also restrict the behaviour of the security.

"So if there's a restriction on private equity, or if there's a Rule 144 hold on a publicly quoted equity, or if there's some kind of right of first refusal that the company has to approve a sale of private equity - all that can be coded into the security itself.

"And when someone attempts to transfer without the restriction being lifted, it will not allow a transfer."


"We are very excited about Ethereum as a thought exercise."

Smith said Symbiont's chief scientist Adam Krellenstein has worked openly in the GitHub of Ethereum open source, both in the core protocol as well as in their smart contracts server and how their smart contracts operate.

"So we have actually helped the Ethereum project and we are very big fans of Vitalik and we think that if they are successful that's only going to benefit us."

But the premise of having to run untrusted code via an Ethereum node is extremely dangerous for institutions, added Smith.

"You have to trust the code and know that what you are running on your node isn't going to break lose and get in your data centre and potentially ruin your data or your hardware."

This is an important nuance in Symbiont's design, he pointed out. "We can publish on Ethereum and publish our smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, but you can't use Ethereum smart contracts on Symbiont's network."

"Would you as a multi-billion dollar institution like UBS trust an open source startup run by first time entrepreneurs with no real profit structure motive? I think the answer is no.

"You can play around with it in a lab, in a closed environment, but you can't risk running your business on something like that."

Digital Asset Holdings

"We have a lot of respect for Blythe, we have a lot of respect for their CTO, and I personally have a lot of respect for Don Wilson. Those are all very smart people," said Smith.

"But from a business standpoint we are way ahead of them. They are probably a year behind us on all fronts.

Referring to Digital Asset Holdings' recent issuance for Pivit, Smith said: "We had done something substantially more difficult over a month prior.

"So we were the first to do it and we are the only firm to do it with a smart contract. So again, they are behind us and then what they did wasn't even really that impressive.

Smith said DAH is very skilful in the media and has a big budget and can scale quickly from a company standpoint.

"But there is no substitute for experience in the market and that's really what we have," he added.


"It's a token system only, so that's gonna be a problem we think. At least our thesis is this will be a long term problem for these guys.

Smith said Hyperledger was "an open source project that never went in to product so it really didn't buy a lot of code - what they bought were the people".

"Dan and Daniel are really smart people. They are in the process of rebuilding Hyperledger from the ground up and that will be their permissioned ledger - just like Symbiont has our own proprietary permissioned blockchain."

Chain gang

Smith said itBit is "very interesting". "Their bankchain project could potentially be a competitor; we are not sure yet.

"Clearmatics and SETL are also guys who are out there trying to find their way in this market place, that could eventually be competitors, but are still pretty far behind where we are."

Referring to Blockstack, which was previously called Cryptocorp, Smith said: "A guy named Phil Harris who used to work for me as a salesman at Lava Trading - he is sort of a money backer and founder of those guys.

"And they have got a former Google engineer on board and are kind of focused on the clearing and settlement side of things."

Smith said Chain, which recently raised $30m from some big name companies including Visa, is not a direct competitor to Symbiont.

"They are more like a toolkit. They are like an API tool kit versus a platform. But we think Chain are really smart guys, and they are in the space and they are close enough that we consider them somewhat of a competitor."

It will be interesting to see who finally makes the grade this distributed ledger derby, and beyond it the engagement of a wider conflict, whereby a conservative task force rallied by banks themselves, seeks to contain a revolution of decentralisation.