Claire Slunecko

Unravelling Blockchain: a guide to blockchain and IP

Claire Slunecko

1 March 2018

Copyright Designs Patents

The future of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies remains controversial. However, their underlying technology – Blockchain – is likely to prove revolutionary.

If you are still trying to distinguish your Bitcoin from your Blockchain, you are not alone. This post provides a no-nonsense guide to Blockchain and its potential impact on intellectual property (IP).

Blockchain 101

In a nutshell, Blockchain creates and retains records of transactions. These transactions cannot be modified or deleted, and are stored in a secured ledger replicated across multiple computers.

The ledger is de-centralised, and can be accessed by everyone on the relevant network. Each computer on the network authenticates, approves and records each transaction, and can access a complete record of the Blockchain.

Each transaction creates a ‘block’ which is connected to each ‘block’ before and after it. Each block adds to a permanent, irreversible chain of transactions – known as the ‘Blockchain’. IBM provides a useful infographic on the process, which can be seen here.

Given that there is no central store of data, a Blockchain ledger is extraordinarily difficult to hack. In comparison, banks, governments and other institutions rely on encryption to protect stores of data that exist in single, siloed repositories that are vulnerable to hacking.

Blockchain is transparent, while protecting privacy and confidentiality. Users can view a transaction, however, cannot identify the individuals behind the transaction where that information is withheld.

Blockchain and IP – how Blockchain is useful for IP rights

Blockchain is likely to reshape many industries, and is already shaking up the IP sphere. It provides a means to register ownership, authenticate and license IP rights, as well as track the usage of IP across the internet.

In January 2018, the US company Kodak (pioneer of the film camera) announced its launch of KODAKOne, a Blockchain ‘image rights management platform’, which allows for registration of ownership and licensed distribution of photographs. Additional providers include Ascribe, which currently has over 5,000 registered creators, and CopyRobo, which provides timestamped validation of ownership of works.

Closer to home, in July 2017, IP Australia issued a report stating the Australian Government was working with CSIRO’s Data61 innovation group on the implications of Blockchain in the public and private sectors.

Subsequently, in August 2017, IP Australia opened applications for the delivery and implementation of Blockchain technology across its operations and platforms. The initiative is now in its final phase of “exploration of live development and expansion” of Blockchain.

Examples of the potential use of Blockchain in the realm of IP includes:

  1. secure storage of works with timestamps, prior to registration with relevant government offices;
  2. evidence of prior use as a defence to patent infringement;
  3. tracking the use of works, grants of licenses (including self-executing contracts) and payment of royalties;
  4. conducting searches for similar trademarks prior to applications for new marks; and
  5. creation of a worldwide registry for the protection and use of IP rights.

Admittedly, Blockchain is not infallible, and there is speculation that smaller Blockchain networks could be susceptible to attack. However, the advantage of streamlining and securing IP management means Blockchain will likely play a significant role in shaping the future of IP.