“That is the only way to get a legal monopoly. You can invent that “Next Great Thing,” but if you don’t patent your rights, it will be free for anyone to copy once it is out in public and you have exceeded the timetable to get a patent.”— Jess Collen
A unique attribute of capitalism in are protected ideas, that is—intellectual property rights. With federal protections of intellectual property, the rights of inventors, artists, and businesses are protected. Every time you listen to your favorite tune, song or watch a favorite movie—you are enjoying someone’s creation. And hopefully—it’s your creation.
Intellectual property (IP) refers to “creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce,” says World Intellectual Property Organization.
Moreover, intellectual property is “any product of the human intellect that the law protects from unauthorized use by others”. IP—historically—includes patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. IP protections inherently “creates a limited monopoly in the protected property”. (Cornell)
IP and the patent office is a critical part of America’s support for inventions, research and development, and sustaining a healthy economy. It has the potential to protect and create new jobs, especially as old technology is retired, and new technology comes online. Patents and IP rights protects the engine of a nation’s economy. As such, inventors, artists, and creative talent deserve to be protected.
Blockchain Use Case for Intellectual Property
Blockchain is attractive in many ways, and to many industries. A variety of data types can be added to a blockchain. Blockchain use case has been applied to supply chain, fintech, among other industries. Important to IP rights, blockchain has already been applied to transactions and contractual information, data files, photos, videos and other design documents—information that, potentially, can be protected as IP.
With blockchain use case applied to IP—it can include smart IP rights, evidence of use that is the ability to show who owns the rights. It can be applied to evidence of creator-ship, and includes the application of smart contracts to IP. The potential to use blockchain technology for the management of IP rights is vast. The following are a few promising features that blockchain can provide for IP. (Clark, Birgit)
“Smart” IP Rights—By recording IP rights with blockchain distributed ledgers, they become smart IP rights. The IP office maintains the IP rights in a centralized database, the IP office has the authority to create an immutable record of all the events in the life of a registered IP right. Using a distributed ledger, it creates a smart IP registry. With smart IP registries, the IP office has the ability to track the entire life cycle of an IP right. Interested parties can now a more efficient audit of IP rights as needed.
Evidence of Use of IP Rights—IP rights have the ability to provide evidence of use of IP rights. A blockchain ledger—which is secure and immutable—can provide that information. It can show who owns what. It give IP rights owners’ a “reference point for their rights and for the extent those rights are used within the market.” (Clark, Birgit) This is particularly helpful where proof of the first use is required. It can also provide evidence of the extent of its use to settle disputes.
Evidence of Creatorship—IP rights includes copyright protection, which is different than trademarks or patents. One can claim copyright ownership and protections—without having to file a federal registration. Blockchain can provide a system to record rights that are created in original works of authorship. This can be for anything from a song, photograph, painting, book or a doctoral dissertation. (Collen, Jess)
— Crypto IP (@CryptoIP) July 25, 2019
With the right blockchain technology, distributed ledgers can be used to allow the owner of the IP right the option of uploading an original design and details with a date and time-stamp record. Thus, providing solid evidence to prove the authenticity of the work and its creator. (Birgit Clark)
Smart Contracts—Blockchain and related distributed ledger technologies offer additional possibilities for IP protection and registration with the use of smart contracts. A feature of blockchain is the use of smart contracts which can hold, execute and monitor contract code, and can be used for IP. Smart contracts can establish and enforce IP agreements. The agreements can include licenses, and provide a mechanism for payments in real time to IP owners.
Moreover, “smart information” about the IP rights of protected content—such as a song, lyrics, or a painting—can be “encoded in digital form to a music or an image file”. (Collen, Jess)
Protecting one’s creative and innovative genius is one sure way to ensure that a society stays on the competitive edge for its citizens. Inventions and creativity have enhanced the human experience. Without it, we wouldn’t have modern medicine to care for the sick, we wouldn’t have luxury cars to take us comfortably from one place to the next, and we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the best of our favorite musical tunes as we drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
Blockchain offers the opportunity to ensure that the United States Patent and Trademark Office stays on the leading edge making proof of IP rights secure, accurate and efficient.
Clark, Birgit ; McKenzie, Baker; “Blockchain and IP Law: A Match made in Crypto Heaven?”, WIPO, February 2018.
Cornell Law School, “Intellectual property”, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/intellectual_property, July 2019.
Jess Collen , “Does Blockchain Matter Yet In Intellectual Property For Business?”, Forbes, February 2019.
WIPO, “What is Intellectual Property?”, https://www.wipo.int/about-ip/en/, July 2019