Starbucks’ mobile payments system is great. But is it licensable?

MarketWatch caught my attention this afternoon when it reported that Starbucks may be looking to license its mobile payments system. After listing a variety of story lines coming out of the chain’s annual meeting on Wednesday, MarketWatch picks up on a CNBC interview Howard Schultz in which the chairman and CEO claims his company’s payments system is “flexible and applicable enough” that it could help other chains looking to leverage mobile payments. Starbucks is fielding calls from a variety of retailers that don’t have the resources or experience to build their own systems, Schultz said, which gives the coffee chain “an amazing, stunning opportunity within mobile payment and social digital media.”

Starbucks’s track record in mobile payments is astounding, of course, particularly considering almost everyone else in the U.S. market has struggled to gain any notable traction whatsoever. The company’s successes can be traced to several factors, including a highly desirable demographic to the savvy integration of its loyalty program to time-saving features like “shake-to-pay” and mobile tipping. But the underpinnings of its system include QR codes, which are essentially open source, and Square Wallet, which any merchant can use for a price. Retailers certainly can take some valuable lessons from Starbucks’ expertise in mobile payments, but I don’t understand why any of them would pay to license any part of Starbucks’ system.