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Insights | How can blockchain technology influence IP law?

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Published Date: October 14, 2016


“The potential for blockchain technologies in developing trustworthy, efficient and cheap registries is huge!” says Justin Spratt, Uber’s Head of Business for Sub-Saharan Africa.

Spratt used the examples of Everledger, which uses the blockchain to protect luxury goods (primarily diamonds) and CoinSpark which acts a blockchain for notarial services and at IPLive we are curious to see the effect that blockchain technology may have on IP law.

The Economist describes the blockchain as:

“The blockchain is a shared, trusted, public ledger that everyone can inspect, but which no single user controls. The participants in a blockchain system collectively keep the ledger up to date: it can be amended only according to strict rules and by general agreement.”

If you look at this definition of the blockchain it has the following qualities:

  • shared, trusted public ledger;
  • everyone can inspect;
  • no single user control;
  • a collective commitment to keeping the ledger up to date;
  • amended only according to strict rules and general agreement; and
  • keeps track of all transactions.

We can all agree that these are requirements for the kind of IP Registries that we would like to see. IP Registries that are open, decentralised with integrity at every step.

The potential for blockchain technology is not merely for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Blockchain technology provides a means to create cheap, tamper-proof public databases for a variety of purposes. How could this work? According to the Economist:

“A group of vetted participants within an industry might instead agree to join a private blockchain, say, that needs less security. Blockchains can also implement business rules, such as transactions that take place only if two or more parties endorse them, or if another transaction has been completed first.”

IP Registries worldwide largely depend on the maintenance and integrity of its databases. However, the cost of maintaining these databases, the efficiency of how they are run and the integrity of these databases require solutions.

The IP Law fraternity has thousands of “vetted participants” (its attorneys) which are linked to industry bodies and the requirements for IP rights are underpinned by sophisticated legal principles. These participants all have the requisite skills and interest in developing and maintaining IP registries.

We agree with Spratt that the future includes public registries that based on blockchain technology

“There is absolutely no reason why this technology won’t become standard across the world in the next five years.” 

JUSTIN SPRATT is the keynote speaker for the upcoming IPCrammer on 27 October 2016 at the Maslow in Sandton. The IP Crammer is just that – a ‘crammer’ session that highlights the year’s most significant IP cases and issues from around Africa. Registration is FREE. Click here to book your space now.

by Nic Rosslee

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