Blockchain has the potential to radically change the way we manage Intellectual and Industrial Property

Blockchain has for too long been associated solely with the digital currency Bitcoin. The enormous potential of blockchain technology goes far beyond the blockchain based crypto-currency Bitcoin. The impact of the underlying technology in the numerous blockchain protocols is certain to have a tremendous bearing on how we do business in the future.

Blockchain distributed ledger technology enables the creating of a shared database, which can record and track transactions and assets. Blockchain is an attractive prospect to a whole host of different industry sectors and businesses, both large and small. In theory any database or ledger could be created and maintained using blockchain. Blockchain advocates praise the technology for its resilience to fraud, its transparency and relatively low cost of maintenance. It is therefore not surprising that many companies are asking whether they might be able to use blockchain technology to update their existing systems, including in relation to the protection of their intellectual and industrial property rights.

When ideas are created, individuals and companies that create them must make important decisions about how to protect them, this can lead for example to the registering of a patent to obtain commercial advantage. However there are times when patenting an idea is not the best first step forward and there are often disputes around who invented or created something. Such disputes are time consuming and expensive. Blockchain could mitigate such conflicts by enabling individuals and companies to identify their own innovation and place it on record within a blockchain. Any disagreements around who was the first to come up with the idea would then be easily identified through the blockchain’s timestamp. This could resolve complex and costly legal challenges around creativity and an innovation that was perhaps not immediately protected. Such potential is relevant to many areas of business, industry and research, especially across Academia, R&D activities and even your own business ideas.

Blockchain technology could provide clear and accurate ownership records of IP assets for businesses across the world. Licensing agreements could be created and recorded via the blockchain, providing an accurate and up to date ledger. Blockchain offers the opportunity to record an idea and then update it, creating a geographical scope for it. If the same Blockchain is being used by a network globally, each could action the process and update the blockchain accordingly.

Contemplate a blockchain based IP register where you could assign IP rights, register a trademark or patent, just think of the savings in both time and money that could be achieved in having ready access to such an up to date register. Blockchain smart contracts could manage access to and the granting of licences, consider the potential with the music industry, films and so many other licensing arrangements. Consider also parties collaborating on an R&D project, using smart contracts they could license their existing IP to each other to create some new IP rights, blockchain could be the perfect solution! The blockchain if used to register works could also enable authors to have tamper proof evidence of their ownership, since a blockchain transaction is immutable, once a work has been registered to a blockchain, that information cannot ever be lost or changed. In theory, third parties could use the blockchain to see the complete chain of ownership of a work, including any licences, sub-licences and/or assignments.

Early adoption of blockchain in IP may well be on private, company-wide blockchains enabling innovators in different countries to collaborate more effectively. For example, if several different researchers are collectively working on an idea they can support each other by adding to each other’s work via the blockchain. This would certainly bring about the rapid adoption of blockchain technology in corporate R&D departments.

There is without doubt enormous potential for the use of blockchain, but as with any new emerging technology there are certain drawbacks, currently these include the huge processing power required and limits to the number of transactions per hour. However blockchain certainly does have tremendous promise with the prospect to streamline and simplify the protection and management of your intellectual and industrial property rights. Blockchain IP registers and blockchain based supply chain provenance systems will  safeguard anything from pharma medicines, to food products, it is clear that blockchain has the potential to benefit the consumer, the brand owner and a wide cross section of businesses around the world.


Author: Alexander Weir

Alexander Weir has twenty years of experience in advising and supporting those engaged in research, SMEs and academia on the identification, protection and exploitation of the Intellectual and Industrial Property (IIP) arising from their research and day to day business activities. Over the years, he has focussed on raising awareness of the importance of identification, protection and monetisation of IIP assets across a wide range of sectors. More recently, he has been exploring the potential of blockchain and AI for the registration, protection and exploitation of IP. Alexander has a BA Hons in Politics from the University of Hull and a Master of Laws (LL.M) from NYU in IP, Innovation and Information Tech (Intellectual property law, information technology, innovation, IT, electronic commerce, antitrust and competition policy). Examples of his recent work include the IIP guides and video case studies developed for the IP Office of Singapore and their IP Value Lab. Further details and articles by Alexander Weir are available on his LinkedIn profile.