Recently, there has been a lot of buzz involving so-called “Initial Coin Offerings” (ICOs), which are crowdfunded offerings powered by distributed ledger technology (a.k.a. “the blockchain”), which is also the technology behind cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. Instead of selling equity, companies that use ICOs sell digital “tokens” to investors. These tokens entitle the holders to certain rights, such as the right to a portion of the future cashflow of the company or voting rights. Unlike a traditional legal contract, the rights of token holders are not enforced through courts but rather through software code (also called “smart contracts”). Although the ICO concept has gained traction very quickly and allowed various companies to raise over a billion dollars’ worth of digital currency directly from investors, many have suspected that ICOs, like their IPO counterparts, involve the issuance of securities; however, until recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had not yet weighed in.
On July 25, 2017, the SEC, in order to “caution the industry and market participants,” released an investor bulletin highlighting the risks of an ICO for investors and publicized an in-depth investigative report on a recent ICO that the SEC determined involved a sale of securities. [Read more…]