When the concept of blockchain first became popularized as a technology enabling the storage and exchange of bitcoins, many people thought of it as a creation of limited scope, just an esoteric tech that only a few people understand. More recently, people have started to create completely new business models using the advantages provided by distributed ledgers to store and archive authenticated data of all different types, ranging from healthcare data, financial records, or even brand new virtual items such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs). But the adoption of blockchain technology has huge implications for the world of intellectual property as well.

What Is Blockchain?

If you’ve heard of bitcoin, then you’ve probably heard of blockchain. Blockchain is an emerging technology that people are realizing can be used for a large variety of tech solutions, with applications in the tech world reaching far further than just moving bitcoins around. At its core, blockchain is an information storage solution, and an unbelievably secure one at that. The genius of a blockchain’s security is that it stores the entire history of its interactions in every copy of it that is made, making it nearly impossible for a single party to feasibly have access to enough computing power to change or erase its history. 

Each interaction or transaction that affects a given blockchain adds a new block, which must be checked and approved by all other peers that are on the peer-to-peer network to which the blockchain is connected. As a result, a blockchain stored on your computer that is designed to store a certain piece of information, such as a record or digital item, is identical to the same blockchain which might be locally stored elsewhere in the distributed system. When a transaction or change is approved, all different versions of the same blockchain stored anywhere in the world will update simultaneously, ensuring that records are kept correctly. 

Using Blockchain To Store Copyright Ownership Securely 

One of the clearest applications for using blockchain in the field of intellectual property is in storing evidence of copyright ownership. Blockchain only allows users to add to the chain with new blocks containing copyright data, providing a platform for creating a concrete history of copyright ownership. 

Because each block on the chain contains within itself a history of all previous blocks on the chain, a potential fraudster would have to somehow edit every single existing block. Because of the way that blockchain works, this would require an unbelievable amount of processing power. 

Using Blockchain To Archive And Record Data

Blockchain may store data about records, but one of its fundamental advantages is that it, itself, is also a literal record. Whenever a change is made to a blockchain, all the information about when, how, and where a change was made is immediately recorded and accepted into all existing versions of that blockchain, wherever they may be. This may come in extremely handy for future litigation of copyright disputes. 

Blockchain also has applications for archiving outdated intellectual property that may be useful at a later date. Because the system is constantly adding new blocks and has no way of removing old ones, updating any actual intellectual property stored on the blockchain doesn’t delete the old version. Nothing is ever deleted or destroyed, allowing users to easily go back and pull from previous work. 

Similarly, documents used to support the actual intellectual property itself goes through drafts, some of which may be important later. Using blockchain to store copyrights, patents, or many other types of documents ensures that they will never be lost, and can always be accessed quickly. 

The Advantages Of Decentralized Data Storage

Another advantage of using blockchain to store intellectual property data is its inherent diffusion of data. Physical documents are often vulnerable to loss, tampering, or outright destruction. While centralized virtual data storage systems solve some of these problems, they are also susceptible to hacking, data loss, and physical alteration. 

Decentralized data storage avoids almost all of these major issues by allowing all parties to store a secure and constantly updated version of the virtual record on as many devices and servers as they like. 

Smart Contracts And Peer-To-Peer Intellectual Property Transactions

There is a lot of discussion about the development of “smart contracts” for use with blockchain technology. These are essentially automation processes built into the blockchain system to automate transactions or contracts that would conventionally take a lot of human time and energy to create and approve. Blockchain users can build programs into their systems that trigger automatically when a transaction is verified that meets certain criteria. For example, Kodak has recently launched a program that will automatically pay the real-time owners of images when they are lawfully used, reducing the amount of employee time needed to process transactions based on intellectual property use. 

Smart contracts can theoretically do whatever your organization has a need for if programmed correctly, opening up solutions for billing, licensing, and enforcement of all kinds of intellectual property. 

Another interesting advantage to using blockchains to store intellectual property and licenses is peer-to-peer buying and sharing. By using smart contracts to automate the process of licensing out a piece of intellectual property, organizations can legally share intellectual property and be sure that the transaction was properly recorded/authorized without the need for human interaction. As blockchain is built on a peer-to-peer system, it naturally follows that it effectively facilitates faster peer-to-peer sharing of data, such as intellectual property or licensing. 

Blockchain is very much still a developing technology. The reason that it may be disruptive for the field of intellectual property is that it securely stores vast amounts of data in a decentralized manner, allowing for all sorts of inventive solutions. There’s no doubt that organizations will continue to find new ways to use blockchain to store and access intellectual property and the documentation that surrounds it, making it a potential game-changer for the field.