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Cryptocurrency Surge Sent Lawsuit Stake Soaring to $16 Billion

"In 2018, there are going to be a lot of fights between people over trying to enforce contracts that were negotiated when there was a much different valuation. Contracts didn’t necessarily incorporate or contemplate the incredible explosion in value. Now that the Bitcoin far exceeds the value of the company, the lender will simply want its Bitcoin back. The business will never equal the value of the Bitcoin."

When two blockchain developers sued one another over an options deal in September, the stakes were high at $1.1 billion. Four months later, they were fighting over a contract valued at $16.6 billion.

It’s a side effect of the recent surge in the value of virtual currencies, in particular Ripple Lab Inc.’s XRP. While all cryptocurrencies were on a tear last year, XRP led the pack. It climbed from 22 cents in September to $3.32 on Jan. 4. Since then it’s plunged by about two-thirds, underscoring the volatility of contracts tied to them.

The price spike meant Ripple suddenly faced a huge loss in a contract with its ex-partner, R3 Holdco. R3, a developer working on behalf of a consortium of banks, says it had a deal to buy 5 billion XRP for less than a penny each and Ripple canceled the options. R3 sued to force Ripple to honor the promise, and Ripple countersued to say R3 failed to meet partnership commitments and misled the company about its interests.

The case is a harbinger of legal battles to come as companies take stock of cryptocurrency-related agreements struck before prices swelled, and look for an escape hatch that would let them hold on to rapidly appreciating assets, including the most popular one, Bitcoin.
 
"In 2018, there are going to be a lot of fights between people over trying to enforce contracts that were negotiated when there was a much different valuation," said lawyer David Silver, who focuses on litigation involving cryptocurrency. "Contracts didn’t necessarily incorporate or contemplate the incredible explosion in value."
 
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