Can Blockchain be patented?
From the European Blockchain Convention we are happy to present our interview with Dvorah Graeser, CEO & Founder of KISSPatent, about Patenting Blockchain solutions.
Since 1995, KISSPatent has help hundreds of startups protect their ideas with patents. With a roster of clients ranging from first-time solopreneurs to large corporations with robust IP portfolios, D’vorah and her team have become sought-after experts in emerging tech Intellectual Property strategy.
Patenting Blockchain solutions has frequently raised issues of eligibility. How do I know whether my idea is patentable? What can be protected?
All patent applications are examined for whether they are new, inventive, useful, and constitute “statutory subject-matter.”
In the United States, any blockchain innovation is prone to subject-matter scrutiny under the Mayo/Alice test. So describing why blockchain is important and how it supports the invention is crucial.
You can obtain a patent for blockchain just like you can for software, but ideally, a patent application should be drafted with a focus on how the technology is tied to physical elements, such as underlying hardware, or that it has a distinct technical effect. In other words, just adding “blockchain” to an idea isn’t enough to make it patentable.
What factors should I consider when deciding to protect my ideas?
First, you must understand that this is a strategic business decision. Getting a patent has a big impact on your business. So, do your research — invest time and effort as you would for any other business decision.
Second, you need to protect your ideas as soon as possible, especially when dealing with blockchain. In many countries, publishing your idea first, before you file for a patent, blocks you from getting a patent altogether! Only the US gives you a 12-month grace period after publication to file your patent. After that, you’re completely blocked from patenting your own invention!
Many of your competitors are filing for patents that could block you. In the patent system, first to file wins — and the company which files first can block others from entering a particular market. Alibaba has already filed for 10 percent of the world’s blockchain patents — and they aren’t the only ones filing!
Getting help, at least for some part of the process, will save you a lot of time, and in the long run, money. Even having a short consultation or help to conduct a patent search, can make all the difference between having a successful or an unsuccessful patent process.
Should I patent my Blockchain Solution in my country of origin or where?
When thinking about a blockchain solution, consider that it has the potential to be used worldwide, not just in your country of origin or where you reside.
Patents are a per-country right, so if you only file in the US, you can’t block your competitors from using your idea in China, and vice versa.
We generally recommend our blockchain clients to file in the US, China, and Europe (which acts as one country for patent filings). But do seek advice first because where you file for protection is a strategic business decision!
What are the main global IP strategies for protecting blockchain & DLT?
As I mentioned before, we generally recommend our blockchain clients to file in the US, China, and Europe.
These three groups represent the three largest world economies and also the three biggest economies involved in blockchain technology.
Plus, your IP strategy should reflect your business strategy — you should consider where your competitors are, where your most important markets are, etc.
How many blockchain-related applications for patents have been filed so far (approximately)? What country is leading the way?
We’ve recently conducted our own research regarding blockchain applications, so this is a great question!
It’s really hard to find blockchain patents because there is no definition of a “blockchain patent.”
In fact, there isn’t even a widely accepted definition of a software patent.
Unfortunately, the patent classification system really struggles when new technology, like blockchain, becomes part of our tech space. So, to conduct our search we used our own Natural Language Processing (NLP) analysis and technology, and also keyword research to compare.
We found that blockchain patents are picking up really fast — nearly as many patent applications were published through the end of June this year as in all of 2019! And 2019 had already seen nearly three times as many blockchain patent applications as 2018!
You can see where this is going.
How do we know what companies are patenting blockchain solutions?
By conducting a patent search!
You can do a search in the Google patent search tool and it’ll give you a general idea, but like I said, it’s really hard finding blockchain patents because of the old classification system still in place.
We’ve found that Alibaba and IBM are the top two applicants for US blockchain patent applications — but Alibaba has already almost 10 times as many blockchain patent applications this year, compared to IBM.
Curiously, most of the blockchain patent applications are owned by a company located in the Cayman Islands, where Alibaba has a subsidiary that owns all of its blockchain patents/applications.
Other important competitors include Bank of America, Mastercard, Nchain, and Walmart.
What industry holds the most blockchain patents?
Not surprisingly, Fintech is the most popular category within blockchain patents, with a focus either on cryptocurrencies and their exchanges or on supporting financial transactions with blockchain.
The second most popular category is decentralized business platforms and solutions deployed over the blockchain. Basically, the business world, outside of finance, has woken up to the potential of blockchain. Businesses are starting to realize that blockchain isn’t just for finance!
Other important categories include healthcare, traditional banking services, and general business services.
We live in the knowledge economy. An increasing share of business value is derived from intangible assets. Success depends on the ability to manage and exploit Intellectual Property. Can Blockchain help the IP industry make its processes faster, more efficient, and cost-effective?
Yes! I think blockchain could potentially change the IP industry. Currently, processes are outdated and thus, not fast enough to keep up with how innovation happens nowadays.
Processes related to IP would be faster and more cost-effective if we had public, yet protected, records of inventions and their development. There are many ideas that have iterations that can’t be protected separately due to their nature (think about vaccines). Having a record of these iterations would help protect ideas in a better way.
On the other hand, most intellectual property offices have “first-to-file” policies. It doesn’t matter who invented something first, if they didn’t file for it first, someone else can claim the invention as their own. Having access to these processes would solve this issue in a more transparent way. This means less administrative work for offices!
Finally, Blockchain could give us the advantage of protecting ideas with no geographical limit. Nowadays, different countries have different rules for what you can protect and you have to file for patents, trademarks, or copyrights in every country you want protection.
With blockchain, we could protect assets worldwide, which would be very useful in a world where it’s so easy for innovations to cross geographical borders.