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IPPro Magazine | Blockchain patents: unidentifiable enigma or future savior?

The idea of ​​blockchain is confusing for some, but its potential to increase our intelligence could be so far unthinkable. So, what's the truth behind the technology?

Changes in technology are abundant. With steps toward 5G connectivity and the increase in artificial intelligence and big data capabilities, there are so many changes taking place in the world of innovation that it can be difficult to keep up with all of them.

A technology that dominates the discussions of the conference is blockchain. The industries globally could be (and in some cases already) to benefit, but who is currently dominating? Could it cause the next patent war? Are the intellectual property offices prepared to increase the inflow of patents related to this technology?

The research published by Thomson Reuters in March 2018 claims that China was the most active filer of blockchain patents in 2017. In that year it filed more than 200 blockchain patent applications, representing 56% of the total number of blockchain patent applications worldwide according to his figures. Compare it with the 2016 figures, which saw only 59 Chinese patent applications on the blockchain.

The United States ranked second in China. With 91 blockchain patent applications presented in 2017 and 21 in the previous year.

Alex Batteson, director of the IT and IP practice area at Thomson Reuters Practical Law, said that blockchain technology is "promoted as a huge potential for upsetting many industries and as its use becomes more widespread, so also the push for patent applications ".

Professor Mei-Hsin Wang, founder and CEO of the BioMedical and Technology Application Association, provided IPPro with the figures retrieved through Patentcloud at the end of 2018. They show that China owned 55 percent of the blockchain patents, with 6603 applications, with the United States own the second most, 2345 (19.8 percent).

His statistics show that China's storage activities related to this technology are constantly growing.

However, both BillTrader's CEO and executive director Justin Simpson, and Oblon's partner Michael Casey, argue that they are, in effect, the United States dominating the number of blockchain-related documents.

Casey explains that when looking at the definition of a blockchain patent as something that actually claims blockchain or distributed ledger, then "I think the dominant country is actually the United States."

Simpson argues that many confused patents and patent applications, adding that many tend to cite "Chinese patents" without distinguishing between Chinese invention patents (subject to substantive examination) and Chinese utility models (which are granted without substantial examination).

Simpson adds that "it is rather difficult to accurately identify blockchain patents or patent applications".

From the clear differences between the figures of Wang and Thomson Reuters, it is evident that a blurred effect is evident in relation to the numbers of the patents related to the blockchain.

Despite the disagreement on who is the principal filer, blockchain patents all over the world continue to rise. The figures provided by Simpson show that in the five years between 2014 and the end of 2018, applications relating to the cooperation with the patents related to the blockchain (PCT) went from one to 419, showing what he called "a very strong growth" .

Blockchain itself is a completely useful technology. This has a plethora of uses. Casey points out how it could be used by companies to detect E-Coli-infected Roman lettuces in the United States, or brands like Gucci could use it to prove if a product is genuine. Simpson adds that the nature of it and its utility on a global network suggest that "the main actors in the arena will present PCT applications".

He notes that Chinese applicants, on the whole, "typically deposit many more domestic applications (in China) than PCT applications, and the number of applications that nationalize after the PCT stage is very limited."

So, if more patents related to the blockchain are filed, are the IP offices prepared for the increasing influx? Wang reminds us that China's strong national IP administration (CNIPA) restrictions under Article 2.1 of the Chinese Patents Act will probably have no effect on the patents related to the blockchain because the technology has the potential to cover the 39; aggregation of technical means and solving technical problems. He adds that until the technical means could solve a technical problem and they will not be vague, then the CNIPA would probably grant a blockchain patent. Wang, like Casey, uses food traceability as an example of a patent that uses blockchain that would be both effective and guaranteed in China.

At the PCT level, Simpson believes that there is no need for patent offices to panic "again".

"With that said, if the upward trajectory continues, IP Offices will clearly have to be in training and supply their exam departments to ensure they have the necessary skills and abilities," he explains, "with any new field of technology, the early years they are a challenge for patent offices as there is an absence of known art to be used in their office objections ".

He says that the white paper of Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakotomo (aka) would be "a good starting point for an" obvious objection "and that Simpson believes IP offices are" making good use of that document. "

Casey was referring to blockchain technology as "an exponentially expanding market" and adds that "in 2019 we will probably see 1200-1500 patents all looking for a market to use blockchain in a non-obvious way and it will be a boost to see who can get at the patent office first to cover their Niché market ".

The chief speaker at the London IP Summit in 2018, the CEO of the 4iP board Axel Ferrazzini, warned that emerging technology companies could cause the next patent war due to a lack of understanding of how the technology works. # 39; industry. He warned that some new actors working in blockchain could cause litigation problems by selling their IP resources to companies with "more aggressive business models".

Wang believes that a patent war will not occur on blockchain patents such as the huge number of applications and markets for the use of blockchain technology and there are various models to monetize blockchain patents before actual applications on products or services on the market, such as securitization and security tokenization.

Simpson agrees with Wang's thoughts, stating that technology has many promises, but the idea of ​​blockchain patents forming the next patent war is "looking much less likely towards the end of 2018 than the situation just a year ago ".

However, Casey believes that the blockchain could "most likely" be an active factor in the next patent war. It highlights the lack of standards developed for blockchain as a potential obstacle that could trigger something.

"I think there's too much money in blockchain, especially with all the clamor around cryptocurrency, because people do not realize they're waiting a while and keeping their dry powder will serve them well in the long run when people can finally say that I have a patent that reads on the standard, "says Casey.

Much has been made of the upcoming 5G connectivity and the number of groups trying to create standards, with the IP head of Nokia and the standards, Adrian Howes said in a recent conference that he hoped that self-regulation had been achieved later to draft agreements for the granting of standard-essential patent licenses (SEP) in relation to 5G and the Internet of Things. Working groups such as CEN and CENELEC are attempting to draft technology regulations. Casey emphasizes that the Free Software Foundation is trying to ensure that this technology "remains an open standard so that people can use it in all computer systems". Despite this, there are, as far as we know, no group trying to find standards to the extent that 5G is, which is absurd given the potential of the blockchain. In order to guarantee the future of the blockchain, this group should be created.

But despite the uncertainties about its regulation, who is at the top of the list and if a patent war could happen, one thing is certain – blockchain will remain a huge player in the future.

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