Everyone Wants to Patent Blockchain

July 5, 2016

3:30 pm

It could provide a “creator-controlled approach to content dissemination to dismantle the current centralized norm” of Netflix and YouTube. It “could provide the foundation for a more prosperous Europe.” Startups featuring it are opening betas. What is this magical service? Blockchain. And right now, it’s up for grabs.

Blockchain is best known for bitcoin. It’s the underlying structure behind bitcoin and is easily the most innovative, important element of the concurrency. But what is it really?

What’s Blockchain?

Essentially, it provides a safe way to publicly track transactions. Here’s Fusion on the benefits of this technology:

“The appeal is evident even to non-geeks. The blockchain is a theoretically tamper-proof verification ledger that publicly keeps track of transactions without the need for a middleman. You’ll also hear people refer to this as ‘smart contracts’. The publicly distributed nature of the ledger—it’s visible to everyone—should make fraudulent transactions impossible. One obvious non-monetary use would be in elections so the outcome could be seen by all and not disputed.”

The potential applications are wide-sweeping and very lucrative. Just read my intro again: It could impact global trade or upend the hugest corporations. Granted, those efforts would take a lot more than just blockchain, but it’s an essential element. And it’s free: Blockchain was made open source by bitcoin’s anonymous creator. But big banks are after it: Bank of America, JP Morgan, MasterCard, Western Union, and Wells Fargo have all filed patents, to name five. How’s that even possible?

Why People Are Patenting It

Any “provably novel applications” of the blockchain algorithm can get their own patents, cornering the market on whatever specific task the patent owner wants to use it for. The banks see a great new form of currency or transactions that their business will be able to back. They just need to legally invent the main use first, and convince patent offices around the world that their use is four things: statutory, new, useful, and non-obvious. Here’s hoping the rights to the open source technology won’t get locked away in a dusty vault.

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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