WASHINGTON, March 19 (Reuters) - Companies have inquired in the past month about regulations that would govern exchanges for bitcoin derivatives, a top U.S. regulator said on Wednesday, a sign such virtual currencies could become a more mainstream financial product.
Regulators have stepped up their efforts to rein in bitcoin after incidents such as the collapse of Mt. Gox, a Tokyo-based exchange that filed for bankruptcy after losing an estimated $650 million worth of customer bitcoins.
The novelty of the technology has made it hard for regulators to categorize bitcoin, but trading derivatives such as futures or swaps would subject companies to oversight by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
"Let me tell you, (if) they've got a derivatives contract, we have jurisdiction... and we should regulate it," Bart Chilton, a member of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission told Reuters in an interview.
In the past 30 days, a number of companies requested information to see what the rules were for setting up a market place to trade bitcoin derivatives, Chilton said.
"These are people that are inquiring about what they should do if they wanted to request (official) status," he said.
He declined to name the companies, which have not officially filed any paperwork to get legal status, he said.
Chilton is set to leave the commission on Friday after more than six years with the regulator.
Unlike conventional money, bitcoin is generated by computers and is independent of control, or any backing, by a government or a central bank - something its proponents like, but that also makes it vulnerable to mishaps.
New York state's top financial services regulator, Benjamin Lawsky, has been the most vocal about regulating bitcoin, saying last week that he wants prospective virtual currency exchange operators to submit formal applications.
The CFTC, which regulates futures and swaps, is also studying whether it should regulate the new electronic currencies, its head said last week. (Reporting by Douwe Miedema; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)