Cryptocurrency mining giant Bitmain has released a firmware update that permits bitcoin miners to activate “overt AsicBoost,” a technological upgrade that offers substantial cost savings over conventional mining setups.
Bitmain launched that patch shortly after braiins, the software development group that runs Slush Pool, announced that it has verified that Bitmain’s Antminer S9 hardware is able to support overt AsicBoost, although the manufacturer has deliberately disabled it by default. The group went on to add that it will add overt AsicBoost support into a future firmware update for Braiins OS, the open-source ASIC mining system it introduced in September.
Created by Timo Hanke together with Sergio Lerner, the patented AsicBoost technology lessens the amount of work that SHA256 miners must conduct to produce a hash.
AsicBoost can be applied either covertly or overtly, with covert AsicBoost being more debated since it encourages miners to produce small or empty blocks. It is more effective to apply the technology overtly, and overt usage also has the advantage of not encouraging miners to produce empty blocks. But, covert AsicBoost has the advantage of making it harder to determine which miners are accessing it, which would be pleasing to miners who are unable to activate it overtly for legal or other reasons.
In a recent announcement, Bitmain stated that its first stance to block overt AsicBoost was due to legal argument relating to the use of AsicBoost, being it overt or not.
Although it was created by Hanke, the patent linked with AsicBoost was then sold to a company called Little Dragon Technology. The company in March made AsicBoost available through the Blockchain Defensive Patent License (BDPL) framework to dampen patent aggression and safeguard the interests of Bitcoin.
The company noted:
“We believe AsicBoost is such an important an innovative patent that, if licensed defensively, can become a force for good to protect decentralization in Bitcoin. At this point, it is clear that covert AsicBoost does not serve the interests of Bitcoin due to the negative incentives outlined, however, version-rolling AsicBoost has none of these drawbacks and is adding more efficient than covert merkle grinding.”
BDPL members under the license can use overt AsicBoost only if they make their patents available through the BDPL also. The BDPL website states that the present license users are Little Dragon Technology, Halong Mining, QRF Solutions Pte Ltd, and Whalechain Technology Co. Ltd. Bitmain which has been accused of patent aggression is yet to be part of BDPL.
But now, Bitmain is claiming that it has received a legal opinion that “there isn’t and may never be a patent right over AsicBoost,” eliminating any obstruction on activating this technology, which was created into the BM1387 chip used by the Antminer R4, S9i, S9j, T9, and T9+.
“Initially, we decided against activating this mathematical function in mining hardware produced by us, largely because of the legal uncertainty surrounding the use of AsicBoost. As an organization, we didn’t want to violate patent laws or act in any way that was untoward….
“With regard to patent rights, we continue to respect third parties’ IP right and take actions accordingly. Based on legal opinions from various jurisdictions, we believe that there isn’t and may never be a patent right over AsicBoost. Thus, all miners should be entitled to make their own choice on whether to use AsicBoost technology without anybody having an exclusive right over it.”