Some people would have you believe that Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are the future of money, decentralised currencies free from the interference of the government and mostly anonymous (if you want it to be). The problem is not a lot of people will take Bitcoin in exchange for goods and services, and to try and fix that PayPal has a new patent that it hopes will fix that by cutting down the transaction time.
PayPal calls its new filing the ‘Expedited Virtual Currency Transaction System’, claiming it significantly shortens the transaction time when cryptocurrencies are being used. According to the filing it can sometimes take as long as ten minutes to go through, which is fine for, say, simple funds transfers, but it's an unreasonable wait if you're a merchant that needs to confirm payment pretty much straight away.
PayPal's filing says that the EVCTS will “practically eliminate the amount of time the payee must wait to be sure they will receive a virtual currency payment in a virtual currency transaction”. Which basically means people can find out whether the transaction has gone through straight away, much like you would with a credit card.
This is good, and solves one of the major issues of using Bitcoin for actual real-life transactions, though it doesn't exactly help with the whole volatility aspect of the currency. As long as people are using Bitcoin as an investment asset it won't really be possible to use it to buy real world products. That's why companies like Steam stopped accepting Bitcoin as a valid payment method, and why even the criminals that revelled in the anonymity have started ditching it in favour of other, seemingly safer cryptocurrencies.
But it looks as though the patent isn't restricted to Bitcoin or any other single cryptocurrency, so it should, in theory, solve the issue of transaction confirmation time across the board. Assuming, of course, that PayPal implements the systems described in the patent, or licenses it out. It's a small step, but it's an important one if cryptocurrencies really want to make themselves heard. [USPTO via Trusted Reviews]