How Blockchain is Causing a Disruption in the IP Field

In our next article, we discuss how blockchain, despite it being around for many years, is causing a disruption in the IP sector.

From an increase in IP protection to improving the cost and speed toward patentability, Barry Lewin discusses why blockchain could be beneficial for IP and patents.

Do you think blockchain is beneficial for IP and patents? Why?

Although the concept of blockchain has been around for over a decade, blockchain has had a fairly recent and rapid introduction, and it is already being applied to a variety of industries.  Blockchain’s use in each of these industries differs widely.  For example, while it is probably best known for its use relative to cryptocurrency, it is also used in other ledger-based environments, such as for tracking event ticketing.

From a patent perspective, there have already been numerous patents applied for and granted across many industries directed to different uses.  In cryptocurrency, patents directed to mining and retrieval techniques have been granted.  Of course, with cryptocurrency, the dynamic of the market alone makes it ripe for new entrants and ways for players to seek a competitive edge.  Patents could be that competitive edge.

Whenever new technology is introduced, there often is a surge in the need for the owners of the new technology for Intellectual Property (IP) protection.  Blockchain is no different and in many ways, it is creating an IP explosion.  Because blockchain is a core technology, its use spans many applications and industries and each of those applications sees a benefit to rapidly obtain intellectual property protection.  By being a core technology, it is a building block in creating overlaying technologies, many of which can have patentable aspects to them.

Further, while we think of blockchain as a technological platform, there is a correlative operational need, typically industry by industry or even application by application.  These approaches might well be different and novel enough over earlier approaches which can themselves be areas for protection.

As such, blockchain lends itself to patent application both relative to the “core” and relative to specific industries and specific applications.  For example, blockchain can and is being applied to contracts, to industries such as financial services, medicine, and supply chain management, and each of these is creating industry-custom applications, where they can benefit from patent protection.  In addition, blockchain’s growth is exploding, so not only is there a need for patent protection, the need is urgent.  Consequently, patent applicants are paying the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for accelerated examination in order to obtain patent protection as quickly as possible.

Further, new technology always means new companies and products, all of which should result in an increase in trademark applications as well.

In what ways can smart contracts be beneficial to IP transactions? How does this have the potential to disrupt the IP world?

If by smart contracts you mean self-executing contracts, these can serve multiple positive purposes.  For example, if a licensing contract or assignment is based on sales volumes over time, the sales volumes can automatically be inputted onto a spreadsheet, managed over time, and satisfied over time.  This may result in no need for third party audits.

Another aspect of blockchain is to allow various governance schemes; could this potentially disrupt the IP field? In what way is technology development, such as Blockchain, impacting the IP field?

It could, but I want to focus on one potentially disruptive use – patents themselves.  Blockchain allows for techniques such as historical linking, which can be used by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to speed up searching for prior art references, such as by using blockchain to link keywords in patents.  Of course, others can do the same, so improved and more rapid searching and application of search results is quite possible.  By having a chain of prior art, which has detailed analysis embedded, both the examiners and the inventors can determine quickly whether an idea is patentable and the inventors can be assured of a more robust patent. The net effect of this could result in substantial improvement in cost and speed toward patentability.

Blockchains aggregate a lot of data and therefore market power and abuse; how could this negatively impact IP if both were to coincide?

Just like blockchain can speed the process toward, so too can others use blockchain to invalidate existing patents.  The effect could be many challengers arising to bog down the judiciary in challenges to patents.

 

BARRY R. LEWIN

PARTNER

www.grr.com

Barry Lewin focuses his practice on patent prosecution for mechanical and electronic inventions for clients worldwide. Technology includes software-based and hardware-based inventions in the medical device arts, optics, telecommunications, material science, robotics and information technology, as well as a wide variety of consumer goods. For example, Mr Lewin has recently obtained patent protection on several software-based inventions directed to use on mobile devices. He frequently lectures on topics including patentability of business methods, patentability of blockchain technology, and patent protection of wearable devices and fashion technology. Mr Lewin has contributed to a variety of intellectual property and business magazines. His articles have appeared in Thomson Reuters and Law360.

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