Rakuten, the Japanese digital platform giant, is to open the Rakuten Blockchain Lab (RBL) in Belfast, planed for 22 August 2016. The move follows an acquisition by Rakuten of IP assets from Bitnet Technologies Ltd.

The day-to-day operations will be headed up by chief technology officer Stephen McNamara and vice president of engineering Fergal Downey, both of whom will join from Bitnet.

RBL will be part of Rakuten's ecosystem services organisation under its technology division, which is led by Fernando Paulo, executive officer of Rakuten.

Yasufumi Hirai, group executive vice president, CIO, CISO and head of the technology division, said: "Drawing on the significant IP assets and deep engineering expertise of the Bitnet team and combining that with Rakuten's leadership in fintech and support of innovative solutions, the new Rakuten Blockchain Lab will be our first step toward unlocking blockchain's potential to revolutionise the way that financial and e-commerce transactions are conducted.

"We are delighted that Rakuten have chosen to open their new Blockchain Lab here in Belfast. There are so many great opportunities for blockchain technologies inside Rakuten and the newly created lab will be instrumental in delivering new and innovative solutions" said Fergal Downey, VP of engineering of the new Rakuten Blockchain Lab.

The scope for blockchain enhancement at a company like Rakuten is vast. Headquartered in Tokyo, with over 12,000 employees worldwide, Rakuten's online platform operates within banking, loans, payments, securities brokering, as well as in media and internet services and a travel and hotel booking portal.

Recently, Chinese platform giant Alibaba announced plans to use blockchain to make its charitable endeavours more transparent.