The collaborative nature of blockchain presents challenges from an IP perspective, according to Kevin Fournier, IP counsel at IBM, who yesterday gave tips on drafting patents in this area.
Fournier presented on the IP issues relating to blockchain technology at Technology Patent Network Europe in London.
Blockchain has been increasingly present in the public eye, and the IP implications of the technology are still uncertain.
Fournier said that, currently, many patents relating to blockchain have been filed but not many have been granted. Successful blockchain filings have focussed on the technical aspects of the patent, he added.
“If you’re going to draft a patent application on blockchain technology, you really need to focus on the technical specifications”, Fournier explained.
However, Fournier said that the secrecy surrounding the uses of blockchain technology can mean it’s sometimes better not to file a patent at all.
For example, “banks have to interact with each other on the platform and there are many, many customers trying to do deals with each other”.
As such there can be “lots of sensitive subject matter in blockchain” and it may well be preferable to “keep it secret and hidden”, Fournier said, rather than submitting a patent application which contains visible sensitive information.
On the other hand, if the technology is something that’s going to be visible, you “might as well patent it as people are going to see it”, Fournier said.
Fournier added that while “blockchain is collaborative”, there are lots of potential challenges around collaborative development “because you get people working together”.
Blockchain technology is developed with lots of companies and inventors collaborating, sometimes across lots of countries, so the invention itself can involve steps taken by many people. As such there are many factors to consider when seeking to obtain, or enforce, a patent, Fournier said.
To demonstrate the “risk” of joint IP ownership, Fournier gave the example of one party with an interest in a patent wanting to sue someone for infringement, with another party wishing to grant a licence instead.
The discussion comes after, earlier this month, the US Patent and Trademark Office published a blockchain-related patent that was filed by Mastercard in 2016.
In 2014, Goldman Sachs similarly applied for a blockchain patent, covering “Cryptographic currency for securities settlement”, which has since been granted.