Blockchain patent protection

At the end of 2018 the European Patent Office organised its first conference on the patentability of Blockchain and its applications.

On 4 December 2018, The European Patent Office (EPO) organised for the first time a major Blockchain conference. This one-day event at La Haye attracted more than 300 professionals from industry and the academic world, lawyers and political decision-makers to know more about the impact of Blockchain on the intellectual property field.

Massive adoption of Blockchain

The first session with Marieke Flament and Claire Wells (Circle, UK) described the quite recent genesis of Blockchain, the underlying concepts and the first successful application of cryptocurrencies. For the future, the two speakers expect massive adoption of the technology in everything related to making data registration and transaction execution reliable. They foresee applications in the supply chain especially for diamonds, food and drugs to guarantee their origin, identity and authenticity and to prevent counterfeiting, fraud and corruption.

Panorama of Blockchain patents

The graph below, which covers patent applications filed and patents granted in the last ten years, shows that it is a relatively new technology. Most striking is the exponential growth of applications since 2016.

Most of these patent applications come from China (40%) and the United States (20%), the main applicants being technological companies (IBM) as well as e-commerce actors (Alibaba) and the financial world (Visa, MasterCard). The first ten applicants to the EPO also includes ICT companies like Siemens, Nokia, Sony and BT, active in the cryptographic security of networks and communications.

Processing Blockchain patent applications in Europe (EPO) and in China (CNIPA)

Koen Lievens, ICT Director at the EPO, explained how the European Patent Office processes Blockchain related patent applications. His message is clear: Blockchain related inventions are nothing other than computer implemented inventions (CII), and to examine these CII, the EPO has over the years developed a well-established and stable process. This "two part" process for CII is widely documented on the EPO website in the guidelines for examiners. The articles on computer programs and mathematical methods (section G-II, 3 of the Guidelines) were considerably revised on 1 November 2018, and these recent adaptations also apply to the evaluation of Blockchain inventions. K. Lievens thus reckons that the EPO is ready for the consistent and harmonised processing of all inventions related to the application of Blockchain in fields such as ICT, mechatronics, biotechnology, mobility (car sharing) or health (patient monitoring).

Wang Xinyi (expert examiner, CNIPA) delivered more or less the same message on the processes of the Chinese Patent Office. Here as well, patents for Blockchain applications are perfectly possible and the conventional examination practices are sufficient. However, patent applications for virtual currencies are strictly refused in China for questions of stability of the financial system.

Smart contracts

It clearly emerged from the round table discussions that Blockchain technologies may radically change the intellectual property field in the future. A smart contract, a combination of Blockchain and artificial intelligence, which autonomously decides if the execution conditions of a contract are fulfilled, perfectly suits the completely secure registration and transactions of intellectual property rights such as trademarks, patents and licences.

Conclusion

In his closing speech, Alberto Casado, vice-president of the Patent Granting Process at the EPO, again stressed the exponential growth of the number of Blockchain related patent applications. Here he saw proof of the potential of this technology in the context of the 4th Industrial Revolution. The Internet of Things will collect enormous amounts of data, which will be analysed by artificial intelligence. Blockchain can play a crucial role in the reliable registration and exchange of this data in many applications such as cryptography, FinTech and industry. At the dawn of this revolution, said Casado, the patent system and the EPO are ready for the fast processing of Blockchain patent application in all these fields.

Sources

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