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Simplifying Intellectual Property with Blockchain Technology

Mary Hall
Director, Oracle Blockchain Product Marketing

Lawyers, legal professionals and inventors have long struggled with the difficulties of processing patent applications and keeping up with the amount of patent filings via the patent database system. As a young lawyer, I spent many long hours doing patent and trademark searches.  If only the intellectual property records were on the digital ledger of blockchain I might have been able to save a considerable amount of time and research effort!

The Problem of Siloed Data and Intellectual Property

In common-law and many countries, the Patent and Trademark systems favor the first to file. This is a problem when the databases inventors file their applications on is backlogged and out of sync. It is estimated that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (UPTO) is currently backlogged by hundreds of thousands of patent applications with only a few thousand examiners reviewing them. Patents and Trademark applications can be filed in the USPTO systems, but not be immediately discoverable by others. Inventors and intellectual property holders may legitimately believe they are the first to file, but in actual fact there may be other applications filed before theirs which they simply can’t find in the government databases because they don’t show up yet in search. This is one of the reasons why many law firms tell clients that it will take them 2 to 3 weeks to do a thorough patent or trademark search.  They know if may take time for intellectual property filings to be discoverable in the traditional database systems. According to the Erikson Law Group, “ The average time it takes to obtain a patent from the patent office at this time is about 32 months or a little under 3 years.”[1]

Intellectual Property: Creating a Digital Ledger for Patents with Blockchain

 According to the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), it takes roughly two years just for the Office Action, resulting from an investigation of the patent application, on an utility patent to be completed. After that, the inventor must then respond to the action which takes about another year. Even though the status of “patent pending” carries some legal weight, and gives notice to other applicants that there is a filing on record, it is still frustrating for entrepreneurs to have to wait so long. While they wait, they are deprived of the full legal protections that registrations provide against infringers, fakers and opportunists.

Blockchain holds the promise of automating the process of patent discovery and approval. With difficulties, inherent in the patent system stored on traditional database, some inventors have become involved in lawsuits and legal conflicts over patents upon the completion of the development of technologies and solutions. Using a blockchain networks, first movers are taking their intellectual property records, patents and trademarks to blockchain. Inventors and attorneys  with access to these digital ledgers have praised the efficiency of patent  and trademark searches using the blockchain digital ledger technology.

For intellectual property lawyers, paralegals and researchers,  blockchain technology holds the promise of being able to share records easily and in real-time. Blockchain's immutable digital ledge can be used as a secure way to protect the intellectual property of authors, inventors and organizations Perhaps even more importantly, laywers and laymen can use data logged onto the ledger to both defend and support intellectual property infringement claims.

 Putting the data of intellectual property filings, on the blockchain also expedites communications between attorneys and clients, patent and trademark examiners and inventors.

Another use case is using blockchain technology to automate the licensing of patents through smart contracts, ensuring that all parties meet the agreed upon terms.  The license would execute when the terms are meet and consensus is reached.

Speed to file: the benefits of blockchain technology

Ultimately, a patent system based on blockchain technology could significantly to reduce the wait time for patent registrations. This would allow inventor, who are often sole proprietors or small businesses, to better protect their intellectual property. A blockchain systems of patent filings and registrations also can facilitate better development or licensing of ideas that are publicly available.  Currently, there is no universal patent or intellectual property registry that cuts across countries or jurisdictions. Blockchain could make a universal intellectual property system available to entrepreneurs, lawyers, legal professionals and inventors. If there was one, this could quite simply revolutionize the traditional trademark and patent system.  As blockchain technology evolves and becomes more mature, this technology could change the practice of intellectual property law by simplifying access to data and enabling greater collaboration.  The Chamber of Digital Commerce has formed a Blockchain Intellectual Property Council to both promote and contribute to blockchain innovations in this space. Intellectual property and blockchain technology could be a great combination to accelerate applications and registrations of unique ideas.


 [1] Erikson Law Group, “How Long Does it Take to Get a Patent” 2017

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