Protecting Intellectual Property with Blockchain

In recent articles in this series, we have explored the basics of blockchain and some of the associated legal challenges that can arise from the proliferation of this technology across various industries. Despite the challenges, however, there are a number of exciting legal applications on the horizon. In particular, there are few areas of law that could benefit quite as much from the real-time, distributed and immutable nature of blockchain as intellectual property (commonly referred to as “IP”).

Streamlining the IP life cycle

When it comes to IP, it’s the nature of the beast that effective enforcement of rights will be predicated on keeping robust and comprehensive records regarding applications, registration, licencing, assignment, use and so on. For certain IP rights, much of this is centrally managed by IP Australia, but the burden is shared across all those who create or use valuable IP.

These processes could be streamlined and strengthened with the use of blockchain. By incorporating the central IP registries onto a blockchain platform, this information could be fed into the system in real time, creating an immutable and time-stamped record of the IP ‘life cycle’. This would not only be of enormous benefit in terms of record keeping and rights management, but may be critically important to certain disputes where evidence of creation, use or goodwill plays a determinative role.

Excitingly, this opportunity is one that has been recognised by IP Australia, which is undertaking trials of a ‘smart’ trademark that can be traced throughout the supply chain using a blockchain platform.

Creation and proof: protecting unregistered IP rights

In Australia, as with many jurisdictions, copyright is unregistered and comes into existence automatically on creation of an original work. As such, disputes can arise about creatorship where evidence of conception, originality or use is incomplete or uncertain. By using a blockchain platform as a registry of original works, copyright authors, owners and users can rely on tamper-proof and time-stamped evidence of ownership to give them peace of mind in protecting their IP rights.

Managing IP rights

Not only can blockchain enhance the establishment and protection of IP rights, it presents a unique opportunity for businesses to improve the management of those rights in everyday governance, dealings and transactions.

For example, IP audits may be greatly simplified if businesses have access to a comprehensive, time-stamped and unchangeable record of all IP generated by or within the business, as well as all third party IP that it uses. This provides an important safeguard against liability for infringement of the IP rights of others due to poor governance or oversight, as well as an enhanced capacity to recognise and protect the value of the IP created within the business.

The use of blockchain in this way may also reduce a lot of the ‘grunt work’ associated with the assignment of IP rights, such as in mergers and acquisitions, for which due diligence must be undertaken.

In a more day-to-day sense, blockchain technology could also be employed in the form of smart contracts to streamline the execution and enforcement of IP licences. The self-executing nature of smart contracts means that IP owners can receive payment automatically and in real-time wherever their IP is used by third parties.

Limitless opportunities

By this point, it should be clear that the potential legal uses of blockchain are endless—and we’ve only just scratched the surface. The protection of IP rights can be enhanced in multiple other ways with the use of this technology, such as tracking and authenticating the provenance of products to tell a genuine from a fake, or helping to keep track of compliance with regulatory requirements.

Stay tuned for our future articles on the potential uses of blockchain. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the protection and management of your IP rights, and how this may be impacted by the rise of blockchain, feel free to get in touch with our Business team.

Written by Shaneel Parikh with thanks to Bryce Robinson