With the recent rise in values of cybercurrencies such as bitcoin, and with increasing interest in initial currency offerings (ICOs), businesses around the world are rushing to build value with new blockchain technologies and applications.
This presents many opportunities to patent innovative blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies. This is a relatively recent trend. The first recorded appearance of the word “blockchain” in any U.S. patent or published patent application was in 2012, approximately three years after the launch of bitcoin.
As of January 2018, United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) records revealed:
- 25 granted patents with the term “blockchain” or “distributed ledger” in their title, abstract or claims; and
- at least 275 published patent applications include one or both of those terms in the title, abstract or claims.
When the data set is expanded to patents and applications that include the word “blockchain” anywhere in the text, the list grows to 56 granted patents and over 500 published applications. These include:
||Digitally encoded seal for document verification
||Blockchain-supported, node ID-augmented digital record signature method
||Guardtime IP Holdings LTD.
||System and method for securely receiving and counting votes in an election
||Blockchain Technologies Corporation
||Efficient clearinghouse transactions with trusted and un-trusted entities
||International Business Machines Corporation
||Mitigating blockchain attack
||British Telecommunications PLC
||Accenture Global Solutions Limited; GSC Secrypt LLC
||Systems and methods for storing and sharing transactional data using distributed computing systems
||Nasdaq Technology AB
||System and method for issuance of electronic currency substantiated by a reserve of assets
||CPN Gold B.V.
||Systems and methods for managing digital identities
||Cambridge Blockchain LLC
||Identity management service using a blockchain providing certifying transactions between devices
||Method and apparatus for providing a universal deterministically reproducible cryptographic key-pair representation for all SKUs, shipping cartons, and items
||Secure distributed information and password management
||Verizon Patent and Licensing Inc.; Cellco Partnership
Most of the granted patents cover new or improved aspects of the blockchain itself. Only a small number of U.S. patents have issued to date for new applications of existing blockchain technologies. This is likely because many companies are merely using existing blockchain technologies to implement different types of transactions.
Over half of the granted patents were examined within the USPTO’s Technology Center 2400, which covers networking, multiplexing, cable and security technologies. TC 2400 includes over 200 examiners who focus on security technologies.
In each of the past three years USPTO Examiners from TC 2400 have participated in a Cybersecurity Partnership meeting, in which the USPTO has interacted with stakeholders in the cybersecurity and network security sector to share ideas, experiences, and insights. Information that the USPTO shared in these meetings includes:
- The top 15 filers of patent applications for information security and cryptography technologies in each year during 2014-2016 included Amazon, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Samsung, Symantec, and Tencent. Top filers in 2015 and 2016 also included Bank of America, Cisco, and EMC.
- While the vast majority of U.S. patent applications for information security and cryptography technologies have been filed by U.S. companies, the USPTO has also received a significant number of filings from companies that are based in Japan, China, Korea, Germany, France and Israel, among other countries.
- The average pendency (time between filing and either grant or abandonment) of patent applications for information security and cryptography technologies was approximately 27 months in 2016.
Globally, as of January 2018 World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) records show 197 published Patent Cooperation (PCT) applications with the term “blockchain” or “distributed ledger” in their title, abstract or claims. However, relatively few of these PCT applications have reached the national stage. The European Patent Office database includes only 21 such patents and published applications. According to a recent report from Clarivate Analytics, in 2016 China experienced significant growth in new patent filings for blockchain technologies and is second only to the U.S. for new filings involving blockchain technologies.
This post is the second in a four-part series. For other posts in this series, see:
– Intellectual Property Strategies For Next Generation Cybersecurity Technologies
– Defensive Patent Strategies For Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies
– Cybersecurity Patent Strategies vs. the Growing Barriers to Software Patents