Blockchain and IP Law: A Match made in Crypto Heaven?

Author:Birgit Clark
Position:Baker McKenzie, London, United Kingdom
SUMMARY

Blockchain and related distributed ledger technologies have been a hot topic recently, with multiple industries exploring their possibilities and new blockchain use cases emerging almost every day. But how might these technologies be used in the context of intellectual property (IP) law and practice?

 
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What is blockchain?

Blockchain technology has become famous as the technology behind cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. In its basic form it is an open ledger of information that can be used to record and track transactions, and which is exchanged and verified on a peer-to-peer network. Blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies create a trustworthy and transparent record by allowing multiple parties to a transaction to verify what will be entered onto a ledger in advance without any single party having the ability to change any ledger entries later on. Each transaction or “block” is transmitted to all the participants in the network and must be verified by each participant “node” solving a complex mathematical puzzle. Once the block is verified, it is added to the ledger or chain.

From the perspective of information, the real innovation of distributed ledger technology is that it ensures the integrity of the ledger by crowdsourcing oversight and removes the need for a central authority. In other words, transactions are verified and validated by the multiple computers that host the blockchain. For this reason it is seen as “near unhackable,” because to change any of the information on it, a cyber-attack would have to strike (nearly) all copies of the ledger simultaneously. While the traditional concept of blockchain is an open and anonymous network, there are also “private” blockchains which pre-screen who is allowed to administer the ledger.

Attractive beyond the world of fintech

Since distributed ledger technology creates a secure, time-stamped and immutable chain of information, it is already finding applications in brand protection and enforcement, marketing and consumer engagement. More use cases seem to emerge on an almost daily basis. The technology has fast become attractive beyond the world of fintech. It is already being used to track the progress of goods in a supply chain, which is of interest to many IP-intensive sectors including the pharmaceutical, automotive, luxury and consumer goods industries, where the traceability of goods is important and counterfeit and grey goods are of concern.

Blockchain is attractive to many different industries because of its potential uses. Different types of data can be added to a blockchain, from cryptocurrency, transaction and contractual information to data files, photos, videos and design documents. And the technology is continuing to develop with new types of distributed ledgers such as hashgraph software, which seeks to address issues of...

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