If you want to protect your software nowadays then you should prepare for a complicated web of trademark, copyright, patent, and trade secret laws. But this might all change in the near future.
Among the most groundbreaking applications of blockchain is for the registry of intellectual property. A relatively low level of disclosure is currently needed to get a software patent in the US and Europe which continually causes the risk of significant overlap between patents.
This is a big problem. Not only does it make a more onerous and less efficient job for patent officers, but also hinders companies looking to develop on existing patents or create their own; reliably checking what is protected by IP law can be an exceedingly difficult and tedious process.
Increasing requirements for disclosure, so to have companies clearly and thoroughly set out what their patent covers, could substantially help. Not that this would solve the issue completely - software patents can sometimes be too abstract even for judges to easily make a ruling - but it would make the process far smoother and less painful.
Blockchain could change everything
Imagine a decentralized registry of IP rights that is accessible to almost everyone. Entrepreneurs and tech companies across the world would probably punch the air in unison if this was successfully launched… and patent attorneys perhaps not so much.
This is because a blockchain IP registry would carry some serious advantages. The paradigm-changing sort, whereby the world saves literally billions and the perfect conditions for a technology boom are created. Here’s a very brief rundown of just what blockchain could do for software IP registry.
Disclosure made better with total clarity
A blockchain-powered platform can help make the process transparent and visible to IP holders, owners and users. This is because a blockchain provides tamper-proof evidence that a transaction has occurred and the details on the ledger remain fixed forever. The transaction can be opened to the public, which would allow people to view the entire history of the patent; it’d be easier to enforce and harder to accidentally infringe upon.
Transferring IP will be more straightforward
A computer program will often involve several parties owning different copyrights used in development: it’s common for software to incorporate third party libraries, for example. An immutable and permanent record of exactly who owns the rights to specific IP would make the process of selling copyright far more straightforward. Instead of locating each individual party and establishing exactly which aspects belong to whom, it will be plain and obvious when recorded on blockchain.
Easier to obtain and protect patents
It is usually difficult for companies to get a software patent in any reasonable period of time, and this means that, in the constant and rapidly changing world of technology, it might be difficult to commercialize a product before it becomes obsolete. A workable solution thus far has been to apply copyrights and trade secrets to new software; but neither actually protects the idea or even offers total protection, therefore a more efficient, secure, and transparent process on blockchain could be the answer to making patents viable.
In fact, it could provide a much improved global system for protecting innovation
In most countries it is currently the case that the rights to copyright belongs to the person from the date of conception. There are a range of solutions for ensuring the protection of an invention or software innovation, though the most secure way is to go through the process of depositing at a notary. This is a hassle for companies that are constantly producing new aspects that they need to legally protect.
A patent is more complex and in most countries has a first-to-file system. This is made more difficult as to have any chance of success when filing, it must be proved that serious and extensive preparation has been made to exploit the innovation. This can be hard to prove, not least of all when a great deal of effort is expended on keeping the tech under wraps.
Having a streamlined blockchain process in place would make for an improved system which adds transparency to the entire world of IP. While today it can be painful, even difficult or seemingly impossible, to claim and ascertain ownership of various copyrights and patents in software, a permanent and public register could serve to remove any doubt.
Photo by Martin Spiske via Unsplash