Today managing Intellectual Property (IP) rights is a slow and burdensome process that puts the responsibility of registration, settlement and reconciliation on the IP owner first and foremost. For content creators, this creates an obstacle to enforcing their rights over content monetization. For licensed publishers and distributors, the lack of IP accessibility and oversight creates a grey area that 3rd parties take advantage of and profit from.
Blockchain technologies promise a more efficient way to create and maintain shared records of intellectual property rights, benefiting creators, publishers, and distributors alike.
In order to understand where and how cost efficiencies can be achieved, we must first understand the current process for establishing IP. Currently, there are different procedures that must be followed in order to create IP, which vary by geography, jurisdiction, and type of intellectual property. In the US, copyright protection is established the moment an original work of authorship is “created and fixed in a tangible form that is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”
Although copyright is established upon creation, the burden of copyright registration remains for the copyright owner to complete with the US Copyright Office. Registration is critical to declaring exercisable ownership rights because digital works of authorship are easy to copy or forge online. Without registration, claims to settlement and reconciliation may be thrown out or discounted.
Blockchains Protect Intellectual Property by Design
This is one area where blockchain tech proves valuable. Blockchains can protect against digital forgeries, including works of authorship, artwork, and credentials, by keeping track of them with triple-entry accounting. Like Bitcoin eliminated the double-spending problem for digital money by decentralizing an immutable, shared public ledger, blockchains can achieve the same outcome with intellectual property and eliminate the creation of duplicate claims by design.
There are a number of up-and-coming blockchain startups focused on solving particular aspects of IP management — from copyright registration to tracing provenance and enforcing IP disputes via smart contracts. However, getting patent clerks, IP lawyers, and the trusted intermediary networks they collaborate with to comply with a blockchain standard that accurately represents IP claims is a gargantuan task. The trick is establishing consensus on how to best decentralize IP governance so that all digital and human elements are accounted for and in agreement.
While there are many competing blockchain IP startups (e.g. Po.et, Lexit, Bernstein, etc.) and standards coalitions (e.g. COALA IP, Decentralized Identity Foundation, and W3C) attempting to create new protocols and standards, communication between teams is often fragmented.
What’s needed to solve this last mile problem is an extensible and open source standard that can accommodate extant claims and future needs while complementing the dutiful oversight of today’s trusted intermediaries. To get there, better communication between the old guards and the new wielders of blockchain technology needs to occur. Legal coalitions, business consortia, and trusted credential communities can help lead the way.
Standardizing Decentralized IP Management
In her foundational whitepaper, “Centripetal Standardization: Top-Down and Bottom-Up Vectors of Value Creation,” Natalie Smolenski outlines how communities of identifiers and verifiers can establish consensus on standardization by contributing expertise from opposite ends of the spectrum.
For instance, authors, artists, and inventors identify the relevant attributes of their digital works that ought to be considered.
Based on their professional experience, this “community of identifiers” collectively assigns value to attributes within their domain. Then, a “community of verifiers,” who have expertise in IP validation, evaluates the attributes which were assigned value in order to design a public, decentralized standard for managing IP.
During the standardization process both communities negotiate use cases, which develop over time to account for new and evolving edge cases.
Today we are seeing new, decentralized IP standards take shape across government coalitions, business consortia, and non-profit standards bodies like the W3C Credentials Community Group.
One particularly exciting example of this is taking place in the Chamber of Digital Commerce’s Blockchain Intellectual Property Council (BIPC), which “promotes the acceptance and use of digital assets and blockchain-based technologies…through education, advocacy, and working closely with policy makers, regulatory agencies, and the blockchain industry” (source).
With over 70 firms working together, including industry leaders like Accenture, Blockstream, BNY Mellon, Chain, Civic, Deloitte, Digital Currency Group, Discover, Hyperledger, Linux Foundation, Microsoft, Nasdaq, R3, Symbiont, TD Bank, USAA, and Votem, BIPC has set the stage for intellectual property management and interoperability across blockchains and decentralized applications.
The immediate benefit of this type of organization is that shared public ledgers which meet new standards requirements can be openly referenced by both legal experts and IP creators. In the case of settlement and reconciliation disputes, tracing IP provenance becomes trivial due to the timestamped and immutable nature of blockchain records. This efficiency will benefit IP creators with peace of mind and help litigators expedite the thousands of patent cases filed in court each year.
Achieving a broad consensus of blockchain IP best practices across so many leading firms will also help speed the development of industry-specific use cases like Blockcert’s academic credentialing services and Artory’s blockchain-based art registry. In the years to come, standards-backed blockchains will help move the burden of claims registration and management from the individual to a decentralized network of blockchains, IP professionals, and regulatory bodies. In this way, blockchains will help redistribute trust and make managing intellectual property more accessible and efficient for all parties involved.