- Jump Trading is locked in a legal dispute over the web domain wormhole.com.
- This month Jump sued Dick Merryman, 79, a Carl Sagan fan who has owned the domain since 1994.
- Jump wants wormhole.com for its crypto business, and it claims Merryman reneged on a deal to sell it for $ 50,000.
Who is Dick Merryman?
In the grand scheme of things, some might find that he’s like an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.
At least that’s what his idol Carl Sagan might’ve said.
Jump Trading Group, one of the most vaunted names in high-speed algorithmic trading and a rising force in cryptocurrencies, likely thought the same when its crypto business set out last summer to purchase a domain name from the 79-year-old retiree.
But now the Wall Street powerhouse is ensnared in a legal battle with Merryman, and he’s become something more significant: a veritable thorn in Jump’s side – and an obstacle in the trading giant’s quest to secure ownership of the wormhole.com domain.
Chicago-based Jump in April accused the Pahrump, Nevada-based septuagenarian of breach of contract after he reneged on an offer to sell the domain to the company for $ 50,000, according to the Jump complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of Nevada.
Jump isn’t seeking damages but rather it’s asking the judge to enforce what Jump alleges was a binding contract and make Merryman relinquish control of the domain.
The company covets the wormhole.com URL so much, according to court filings, “because it is an exact match for the name” of a cryptocurrency platform it purchased last August, Wormhole Network (the firm currently holds the domain wormholenetwork.com).
The platform, a nexus that connects various blockchains like Ethereum and Solana, has grown substantially in size and notoriety since then. It was the site of a headline-grabbing, $ 325 million crypto heist in February.
Jump is thus anxious to pry the domain, which has similarly grown more valuable, from Merryman’s clutches before another bidder gets to it, requesting and receiving a preliminary injunction to freeze the asset.
Last June, a software engineer at Jump put in a $ 2,500 offer to buy wormhole.com through third-party broker DomainAgents, according to court filings. The offer was rebuffed.
According to the message history in the court filings, Merryman responded on July 1: “The price for wormhole.com is a firm US $ 50,000. -Dick-.”
To Merryman’s surprise, Jump agreed.
As the days dragged on, Merryman didn’t respond to instructions to complete the deal and set up an escrow account. Marcus pressed DomainAgents about the status on July 12, and Merryman revealed he’d had a change of heart:
“Nope, sorry, I changed my mind. This was too easy, I’m either leaving a lot of money on the table or it’s a scam. Either way, no sale. If you want to make a reasonable offer, then you are encouraged to do so.-Dick- “
When Jump attorneys got involved a little over a week later, Merryman replied, “Yeah, good luck with the legal action. The price is $ 100,000. -Dick-.”
A couple days later, a Jump attorney sent Merryman a threatening letter accusing him of breaching the agreement, saying Jump would “not negotiate that price further post-acceptance” and telling Merryman he was “neither ‘leaving money on the table’ nor is this a ‘scam’. “
Through another intermediary, Jump subsequently raised its bid only for Merryman to counter with a demand for $ 200,000.
Merryman hadn’t been serious about selling, he said, throwing out what he viewed as a high offer to get them to go away.
“I had no idea who I was dealing with,” he told Insider.
“I didn’t really want to sell it. I’ve had the same email address for 28 years – it’s like family,” he said.
A Carl Sagan-inspired impulse buy, 28 years ago
While Jump Trading’s interest in wormhole.com kicked off last summer, for Merryman it all started in 1994, when the internet was still in its infancy and Jump Trading wasn’t even a twinkle in the eyes of its founders.
At the time, just about any internet domain was up for grabs. One night, after watching Carl Sagan’s television series “Cosmos” with his wife Linda, “wormhole” popped into Merryman’s brain.
“So I was like, ‘Let’s buy wormhole.com.’ So we did, “Merryman told Insider. He didn’t buy it as an investment, but simply to have as a personal domain. Registration records confirm it was purchased in 1994.
“We could’ve had just about anything else, too,” he added.
Merryman, who worked as a computer engineer before retiring in 2001, has had an email address attached to the website ever since.
In the ensuing three decades, Merryman has received hundreds of inquiries and solicitations to buy the URL, he said, all of which he’s rebuffed – except one.
In the early 2000s the estate of Carl Sagan, who died in 1996, reached out about acquiring wormhole.com for a project.
“I told them, ‘Look, I’ll give you the domain if you really want it.’ Because I was a big Carl Sagan fan, “Merryman recalled.
The Sagan estate ultimately decided not to move forward, so Merryman kept wormhole.com and he even got the Sagan representatives to tell him the name of the majestic opening theme song in “Cosmos” – “Heaven and Hell” by Greek composer Vangelis.
“I asked, ‘What is that music, that beautiful music he uses in the background?’ And they told me and I felt better – and I bought it, “Merryman said.
That’s the closest he ever came to relinquishing wormhole.com, which under Merryman’s stewardship yields a spare webpage with no other hyperlinks. It simply exhibits the definition of a wormhole (“a theoretical passage through space-time that could create shortcuts for long journeys across the universe”), a graphic rendering of a wormhole, a message in bold rent font declaring that the website “offers no services to the public, “and a whirling string of characters that follows your cursor across the screen and resolves into a clock revealing the date and time.
The Merrymans spent most of their lives in Maryland, but they moved out to Nevada about 15 years ago to escape the crowds and crumby weather.
They settled in unincorporated Pahrump, which lies 62 miles west of Las Vegas on the California-Nevada border and is home to about 45,000 people, as well as a handful of small casinos, a couple wineries, a petting zoo, and the Pahrump Valley Speedway. , a quarter-mile dirt race track.
It’s a long way from Wall Street and the hypercompetitive world of quantitative investing, where armies of decorated mathematicians and engineers battle to develop cutting-edge trading algorithms with billions of dollars on the line.
A $ 325 million crypto heist, and a hypothetical classic law school
The domain dispute simmered quietly in the background for months, but Jump never really went away.
In August 2021, a few weeks after Jump first contacted Merryman, the company completed a deal to acquire blockchain development startup Certus One, the creator of Wormhole Network.
Earlier this year, hackers exploited a flaw in Wormhole and pulled off one of the largest crypto heists in history, pilfering $ 325 million worth of the digital token ether. A Jump Crypto exec likened it to a “high-tech check forgery” in an interview with Bloomberg, describing Wormhole as a bridge that connects the separate, closed-off ecosystems of PayPal, Venmo, and
but different blockchains instead of payment apps.
Jump Trading decided to foot the bill and make users whole, stabilizing the integrity of Wormhole and its flourishing investment.
The episode caused a stir not just in crypto circles but across the financial media.
The resources available to a company with the wherewithal to quickly replenish $ 325 million with spare change lying around are vast. And a company that would willingly do so to save a nascent crypto project is enormously invested in the project.
These statements may be obvious, but the entire episode might as well have happened in a different galaxy from Merryman. The events and context leading up to the lawsuit were lost on him, even after he was served a summons in mid-April.
While he hasn’t filed a response to the complaint, Merryman was skeptical of Jump’s argument. He didn’t recall signing up for DomainAgents before they reached out to him. He views the ordeal like a home sale – just because he listed a price doesn’t mean he can’t decide to take it off the market or raise the price later.
A spokeswoman for Jump declined to comment on the litigation.
The case reads like a classic legal exam question, according to Jordan Goldstein, a partner at Selendy Gay, which is not involved in the case.
“In many ways, this case reads like a hypothetical law school – was a contract formed and can the case be brought in federal court,” Goldstein, a veteran litigator and specialist in commercial transactions, told Insider.
Courts have historically applied the same legal principles to tangible, brick-and-mortar assets – like homes – as they have to digital assets, such as web domains, Goldstein said.
And while Merryman’s view isn’t reflected in the court filings, Goldstein said his “statement that the price is a firm $ 50,000 could reasonably be understood as a counteroffer, which Jump had the power to accept, thereby forming a contract.”
For Merryman, losing wormhole.com would be akin to losing something that’s been a digital home for the past three decades.
But he has resigned himself to the likelihood he may have to go through with the deal and let go of wormhole.com. He’s engaged in settlement discussions with Jump attorneys and is hopeful to at least maintain access to his and Linda’s longtime email addresses for a while longer.
“Imagine after 28 years the daunting task of changing your email address,” Merryman said.