Patents & Blockchain – Race of the Giants

Patents & Blockchain – Race of the Giants

Article by Dr Martin Eckert, partner of MME Legal.

Patent offices have seen a tidal wave of blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) patent filings. Big players are investing in proprietary blockchain solutions. A race to exclusivity!

According to an analysis recently released by Thomson Reuters, 225 out of the 406 blockchain patents (55.4%) filed in 2017 came from China. The U.S. came in second with 91 (22.4%) and Australia came in third with 13 (3.2%).

At the forefront in the U.S. are large banks and financial institutions. With 45 applications Bank of America is currently the largest holder of DTL-related patents. The next top holders of blockchain patents are Mastercard, Fidelity Management and Research, IBM and Coinbase, according to Patexia’s data. The top five holders of Bitcoin patents are Game Play Network, Bank of America, IBM, Elwha (an affiliate of Intellectual Ventures) and United Parcel Service.

But also the giants try to catch up. In December 2017, Apple filed a patent that incorporated blockchain innovation. Last year, Amazon won a patent for a blockchain-based streaming data marketplace and announced the launch of Blockchain Templates to make it easier to launch Ethereum- and Hyperledger-based networks. Furthermore Amazon registered three cryptocurrency-related domain names. Google investes in startups like Ripple and Storj. And, according to rumors, Facebook intends to launch its own cryptocurrency, and its deadly serious about what blockchain can do for its future.

What does this mean for the crypto world? Blockchain technology started as open-source project. Now the deep pockets such as large banks and financial institutions try to monopolize innovations by filing patents. And without doubt, patent trolls will show up. This could have a negative impact on the growth of the industry.

In any case, ICOs and DTL start-ups need to evaluate the patentability of innovation and reserve budget for patent applications.


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