06 Oct Using Blockchain Technology to Protect Your Intellectual Property
As a business owner and entrepreneur, you spend a lot of time creating. Even when it doesn’t feel like you are making a masterpiece, the work that you produce is a part of your intellectual property, and it has value. What do you do to protect that value? Sure, we all know that we should trademark things like our company name and our logo. But how do you also protect your designs, writings, creative ideas? And, when you put them out into the world, what do you do to ensure that your creations are only being used by those who have paid for the privilege?
Over the past few decades, intellectual property has become more and more difficult to protect. Why? The answer is simple: the Internet. As ideas and creations become more shareable, it has become harder to limit sharing, and it has become nearly impossible to track down thieves and pirates who use IP without permission. Surprisingly, it seems like we might get a solution to this problem from an unexpected place: the Internet.
Breaking Down IP
Before we jump in the deep end with blockchain, let’s start by breaking down IP. In common law, there is a basic rule of thumb: if you create something, you own it. This applies to writings, paintings, photographs, logos, anything. But, as you surely have noticed, there is a problem with this premise. How do you prove that you created a particular work? And how can you show that you came up with the work before someone else did the exact same thing?
Traditionally, the best way to resolve this problem was to register your work with some kind of governing body. In the US, that is the US Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO) or the US Copyright Office. This is still the most widely accepted way to make your ownership known, but it does take time, cost money, and it can be a little complex. Because of the cost, time, and effort, registration tends to be reserved for completed works. For example, you wouldn’t necessarily copyright your novel when it is still in its first draft.
At The Brand Protected®, we still strongly recommend registering your trademarks and copyrights the traditional way with the USPTO. However, we also don’t think that should be the end of the story. Blockchain technology is already causing major waves in the IP world, and should be considered a valuable resource when protecting your brand’s IP.
Blockchain is Best for IP
If you haven’t heard much about blockchain technology before, you might want to take a step back and check out our blog post about how blockchain can be used in business. For the purposes of this post, we are going to focus more on the application of the technology than how it works, but let’s set a baseline definition:
Blockchain technology creates a decentralized ledger that allows users to record data in a way that cannot be altered. Each “block” is a bundle of unique data that, once recorded, is held on different server systems throughout the world.
In the IP context, blockchain is exciting because, instead of centralized governments being in charge of tracking ownership and registration, blockchain simply establishes ownership by recordings in the ledger. Think of this as a secure, immutable way to timestamp your creations.
Because blockchain ledgers cannot be retroactively altered, they are ideal for
- Proving when a work was first created and used
- Tracking subsequent use and distribution
- Registering works to preserve IP rights
- Managing online sales of digital works
- Transmitting payments to IP owners for use
Unlike the traditional system of registering and protecting IP, this blockchain ledger would give IP owners the ability to track and prove the full lifecycle of a work: when the work was first created, when it was used in trade, and when it was registered, when it was licensed, sold, assigned, etc.
Because blockchain allows IP owners to reliably stake ownership claims over their work directly, without the use of a middleman, this low-cost solution will have a democratizing effect on IP worldwide. Currently, registering and defending IP is widely available to big companies and well-connected individuals. Using blockchain, startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses will also have the opportunity to register, protect, and monetize their IP.
Streamlined Licensing and Payment
With the creation of blockchain came innumerable applications of the technology, and another way this decentralized ledger can be used is to create smart contracts. A smart contract again takes the middleman out of a transaction. The idea is that the IP owner proposes the terms for a transaction — whether establishing licenses, distribution agreements, or sales — and then the buyer can complete the transaction by paying the amount proposed.
Ready to Get Started?
Getting started with blockchain to preserve and protect your IP is closer than you might think. There are already apps and companies helping business owners and creators to register their works on the blockchain as an addition to their IP protection. At The Brand Protected®, we are committed to helping businesses protect their ideas and hard work in every way we can, both in traditional and innovative ways. That’s why we make sure we are up-to-date and on-the-cutting-edge when it comes to blockchain technology and IP law. Click here to schedule a brief, 15-minute call with our experienced IP attorney to learn how blockchain may benefit your business.