Dr. Craig S. Wright with CoinGeek Conference photo-op in the background

Craig Wright’s ‘passing off’ cases postponed pending COPA v Wright outcome

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

A decision was made at a case management conference (CMC) before Judge James Mellor at the U.K. High Court of Justice on Thursday on how best to definitively settle the issue of whether Dr. Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto, at least for Dr. Wright’s ‘passing off’ cases and COPA vs Wright.

Judge Mellor ruled that several ‘passing off’ cases brought by Dr. Wright will be postponed until after COPA vs Wright, set for January, with some defendants agreeing to be bound by the outcome of the COPA trial and others agreeing to take part in a ‘preliminary single issue trial’ on whether Dr. Wright is Satoshi.

A preliminary issue trial brings parties from several different cases together to argue an issue that they have in common, in order to settle it for all parties so that it does not need to be argued again in all the separate trials.

In this instance, the issue is whether Dr. Craig Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto.

The cases involved are the Crypto Open Patent Alliance (COPA) vs Dr. Wright, and several ‘passing off’ cases Dr. Wright has brought: Wright v Coinbase and others; Wright v Payward and others (Kraken group of companies); and Wright v BTC partnership and others.

‘Passing off’ is a civil claim which protects the ‘goodwill’ of a person or entity from misrepresentation or attempts to ‘hi-jack’ the reputation of a product, in order to sell competing ones. Dr. Wright accused those named in the suits of misusing the Bitcoin name to sell BTC, which does not represent his vision as presented in the Bitcoin White Paper.

In the COPA matter, COPA is suing Dr. Wright in the United Kingdom, seeking a declaration that he is not the author of the Bitcoin white paper.

All these cases share the core issue of whether Dr. Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto, and thus the person who authored the Bitcoin white paper, so a CMC was arranged for June 15 to decide if this single issue could be settled for everyone in a separate preliminary single-issue trial—meaning it would not need to be rehashed ad nauseum in each separate trial.

An alternative approach up for debate in the CMC was whether to have the identity issue settled by the COPA trial—in which COPA is asserting that “Dr Wright is not Satoshi Nakamoto.” If parties in the passing off cases agreed to become ‘privies’ in the COPA case and be bound to the outcome of the trial, with regards to the identity issue, then their passing off cases would be ‘stayed’ (postponed) until after the COPA trial.

Dr. Wright’s representatives argued for a preliminary issue trial based on it providing, what they deemed, a more definitive outcome to the identity issue, with all parties being bound, as well as reducing costs for parties involved.

This was also favoured by several of the 17 defendants in the BTC Core trial, collectively known as ‘the developers,’ whose solicitor argued that they could not adequately represent their clients if they were not able to fully contribute to the COPA trial—which would be the case if they elected to be a privy and let COPA’s attorneys (Bird&Bird) argue the identity issue.

The counter argument was presented by attorneys for COPA, Coinbase (NASDAQ: COIN), Kraken, Blockstream and Coincode, who all argued for a general stay in the passing off cases, pending the outcome of the COPA trial.

In the end, Judge Mellor elected to go with a third option—he suggested a “hybrid solution.”

The COPA trial will proceed on January 15, 2024, and the defendants in all other cases (except the ‘developer’ defendants) will be privies to that trial. This means that after COPA is decided they will be able to enforce the decision with regards to Satoshi’s identity in their own cases, which will be stayed until after COPA.

Meanwhile, a preliminary single issue trial will be held at a date to be confirmed for the BTC developer defendants that are not privies and not bound by the COPA verdict.

However, Judge Mellor did make the point that some of these developer defendants in the BTC Core passing off case had only been served recently and so may not have enough information to make an informed decision about whether they would accept being bound to the COPA outcome.

As such he asked for detailed ‘disclosures’ to be given by the COPA vs Wright parties to the BTC Core non-bound parties as soon as possible, in the hopes that once they know more about the COPA case details, they will “be sensible” and agree to be bound to the outcome of the COPA trial.

If enough of the non-bound parties eventually accept that COPA’s solicitors can argue the identity issue adequately, without their contributions, then there is a chance the preliminary single-issue trial may not go ahead.

If it does go ahead, Judge Mellor determined that the formulation of the issue will be: “Whether Dr. Wright is the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto.”

One way or another, come January next year there is likely to be a significant legal precedent for whether Dr. Wright is Satoshi Nakamoto—whether this settles the issue indefinitely is another question.

New to blockchain? Check out CoinGeek’s Blockchain for Beginners section, the ultimate resource guide to learn more about blockchain technology.