How Blockchain Could Transform The Intellectual Property (IP) Industry
Blockchain has already impacted a number of industries. We hear a lot about blockchain affecting banking and supply chains; but could blockchain also revolutionize intellectual property (IP) law?
Delton Rhodes at CoinCentral explored the possibility last month in an article titled, “What Opportunities Could Blockchain Create for Intellectual Property (IP)?”
How will blockchain change IP law? Keep reading to find out.
The Intellectual Property Registration System Of Today Is Inefficient
Today, it takes an unusually long time to file a patent. In the United States, for example, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) reports that it takes them approximately 16.2 months just to take initial office action after a filing. The total length of time from filing to completing the application takes around 25.3 months – or over 2 years.
Making things worse is that patents for specific categories like computer architecture can take significantly longer. Of course, computer architecture is one category where technology can change on a near-daily basis. It’s also an industry where first movers enjoy enormous advantages. All of these delays are stifling innovation.
The problem is related to manual review. Many IP filings must undergo manual review.
With blockchain things could change. Some are suggesting replacing centralized registration systems with decentralized, blockchain-based registration systems. This could make it easier to register new IP. It could also make it easier to update filings and transfer ownership. By reducing approval wait times, we can encourage innovation – not stifle it.
Determining Creatorship With Blockchain
The intellectual property industry has always had a big problem: it’s difficult to determine which entity first created the IP. There’s a lengthy approval process and a number of different IP regulations around the world. This can all make it difficult to determine who, by law, first created the IP (and thereby owns it).
Let’s say a singer releases a song that sounds similar to an existing song. As we saw with the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit, songwriters can be charged with IP infringement lawsuits years after a song was released.
A blockchain-based registration system won’t solve this problem. However, it could make the industry more streamlined. A blockchain-based registration system would make it easier to verify whether or not a song is infringing upon the existing IP of a previously-registered song.
Instead of having to compare a new song with the IP of millions of songs stored in hundreds of national registries worldwide, we could compare a new song with data encoded in the existing blockchain. Think of it like Copyscape, which helps determine content writing infringement online. A blockchain-based registration system could be like Copyscape for IP in art, music, and more.
Reducing Counterfeiting Using Blockchain Technology
A company might steal or “heavily borrow from” the IP of a competitor. A tech company might create a breakthrough technology, for example. A competing company purchases this technology then reverse engineers it to see how they created it. The competing company might end up creating a similar product based entirely on the IP of the original company that developed the technology.
Companies do this every day and generate billions of dollars in profit.
Blockchain technology could reduce counterfeiting in a number of different ways. One way is to integrate RFID tags into a product. These tags could verify – via a blockchain – that a product legitimately came from the legitimate manufacturer. This could be particularly valuable in the luxury goods space – like with luxury handbags.
Are There Any Blockchain Companies Focusing On The IP Space?
We hear a lot about blockchain companies focusing on banking or payment platforms. We don’t hear as much about companies focusing on the IP space.
The blockchain industry does have upcoming projects like Vaultitude (formerly known as IPCHAIN Database), which aims to become the primary source for IP information worldwide. The goal is to create a blockchain-based database that acts as the legal stamp of approval for IP filings worldwide. Vaultitude plans to reach out to governments and regulatory agencies and encourage them to adopt Vaultitude to improve their current filing solution.
Vaultitude is promising. The project adheres to World Intellectual Property Organization standards. The platform aims to allow users to securely store their IP, provide clear proof of copyright, and enjoy other benefits.
Many members of the blockchain community are also familiar with VeChain Thor, which specifically aims to reduce counterfeiting. VeChain Thor has already been integrated with Chinese fine wine importer DIG, which now uses VeChain Thor to ensure their products are genuine. VeChain Thor tags each product with a special RFID tag. The network is decentralized, which means it’s difficult to hack. The RFID tag of each product can be checked and verified over the decentralized network at any time.
Waltonchain is a project with similar goals. Waltonchain has already partnered with Alibaba, among other major companies, to reduce counterfeiting.
What’s Stopping The Mass Adoption Of Blockchain Technology In The IP Industry?
Delton Rhodes at CoinCentral recently highlighted a number of obstacles preventing blockchain from being adopted en masse by the intellectual property industry, including all of the following:
- How will IP lawyers and regulatory agencies actually integrate blockchain into their current regulatory policies? It’s easy to say, “blockchain will solve these specific problems”. It’s harder to actually implement those solutions.
- If a software project is backed by IP law and not open source, then how much of the code can be re-used for similar projects? At which point does a project infringe on IP law?
- Current patent laws do not require filers to submit a single line of code in order to get a patent. However, under a decentralized, blockchain-based patent system with faster and simpler filing, the concept of filing a patent without code could lead to more challenging rulings and a more complex dispute resolution process.
- In other words, a blockchain-based patent registration system could ultimately force patent officials to require prototypes upon submission.
- Blockchain-based patent systems can also be problematic for more creative fields – like art or music. How similar can a work of art be to a piece that already exists?
- How can we train AI to detect similarities and differences between IP? At which point will the AI “trigger” infringement? Can a song borrow 10% of an existing song and still be original? At which point do artists have to share royalties?
Ultimately, the field of patent law deals with these problems every day. If blockchain technology wants to revolutionize the world of intellectual property, however, then these problems need to be solved.
Blockchain technology could allow regulatory authorities to achieve more with fewer required resources. Blockchain could significantly boost efficiency within the IP law space – now we just have to wait and see how it’s implemented.