It is easy to see why so many companies are pouring resources into blockchain and why it has been dubbed as ‘the new internet’ (if you don’t have a grasp of blockchain technology, take a quick look at this useful Reuters infographic). Cryptocurrencies are perhaps the most widely known use of the technology but blockchain has many more potential uses: in theory, blockchain technology could be coming to every aspect of our lives - any and all types of data files, storing photos, videos and design documents, workplace documents, banking, and more.
At Caselton Clark we are encountering blockchain in the intellectual property field a lot more frequently. We’re finding more hi-tech IP talent for both businesses and law firms and clients increasingly want to be introduced to professionals with in-depth knowledge or hands-on experience of blockchain or cryptocurrencies – in fact we are currently hiring for two separate industry IP positions that involve blockchain technology (see the links at the end of the article). It seems that where big economic interest goes, so does intellectual property interest.
But should the IP world outside of the tech sector be paying attention to blockchain? Many have already begun to move on capitalising on the technology, and if you aren’t already the evidence suggests that you should be considering it.
Capitalising on blockchain
Despite blockchain being in its infancy, and many of its potential uses still in their inception, companies’ IP divisions haven’t been slow to move on the new technology. IBM and Alibaba each hold close to 100 blockchain related patents already. Behind them come some key finance players including Bank of America who hold 80 filings and Mastercard who have 53. This report collated data on an international scale and shows how China has placed fifth on the list though its central bank, People's Bank of China (PBoC), which has filed a total of 44 patent applications devoted to its project for a central bank digital currency. China has poured a lot of resource and stake into blockchain, WIPO data has previously indicated that the highest number of patent filings for blockchain technology in 2017 came from China, which filed 225 that year compared with America’s 91 and Australia’s 13.
This is part of a growing trend we have been witnessing in the IP market of a focus on high-tech and electronics patent talent. While software is a notoriously difficult area to patent, the benefits of exploiting this area are great and the implications are far-reaching. Over the past couple of years in both industry and private practice, we at Caselton Clark have seen an increase in the demand for IP professionals with electronics and software specialisms including niche areas such as artificial intelligence, blockchain or 5G communications. Companies are keen to lock down talent with expertise in these areas from early on, some aiming for those fresh out of university or upon completing a PhD.
But an exciting emergent technology isn’t without its problems. This heightened focus on the patentability of blockchain resulting in companies scrambling to be the first to monetise it has created a patent battleground. There is a concern that this will stifle competition, and therefore innovation. The aggressive and hostile patent battleground of the mobile market (Jessie Yang explored this in detail), is something the blockchain patent market could also fall foul of.
Looking to the horizon
However, there is hope for change and for blockchain to avoid the same errors. Progression is seemingly being made through establishing checks and regulations. Various governmental agencies and IP registries such as the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) are actively looking into the capabilities of blockchain; the EU Commission has plans for a blockchain observatory and the US Congress recently created a Congressional Blockchain Caucus. Plus, it is worth keeping in mind that this technology is still in its early stages. Cryptocurrencies have been a working example of the possibility of blockchain, but its wider potential impact is of yet untested and many of us are excited to see how this develops.
However, the general consensus and trend among the IP world seems to be that if you aren’t paying attention to blockchain yet, you should soon - or prepare to be left behind.
If this article proved of particular interest to you, we are currently working on two IP positions that involve blockchain. One IP Counsel role based with a blockchain specialist in London (LINK), and one with a technology company in Europe that is looking to recruit an IP Innovation Manager (LINK). If this is something you would be interested in, then please get in touch with Stephen Gill at Caselton Clark.