The increasingly popular blockchain, the underlying technology of the bitcoin, has been the object of a “patent land grab” by companies seeking to capitalize on its potential outside of the bitcoin context.[1] Most recently, it has found another use at AT&T, where researchers filed a patent application for a blockchain-based device and method for home subscriber servers.

The blockchain framework provides security advantages to home servers because the device and method function in a “distributed fashion.” This means that “mutual authentication,” i.e., the security of the link between a home network and a network operator, can be completed in such a way that the “home subscriber server is not necessarily a centralized single point of failure that can be a target of a malicious distributed denial of service attack,” according to the patent application.

Though it has been in existence for some time, the blockchain’s exposure through the emergence of the bitcoin has spurred an increased fascination in potential uses in spheres from business, contracts, and finance to the European refugee crisis.[2]

Part of the appeal of blockchain lies in the diversity of these potential functions. However, the patent applications being filed are relatively broad in scope, which has been—and likely will continue to be—the source of patent claim challenges. In addition, the 2011 Leahy-Smith America Invests Act allows for review of patents even after they have been granted, as long as the challenge is brought within nine months of the patent’s issuing.

The vice president of digital forensics at Stroz Friedberg, Geoff Cohen, told CoinDesk that “The only reason we haven’t seen [more of a patent war] yet for all the talk and hype . . . is that [blockchain] hasn’t turned into huge profits for anybody yet . . . On an industrial economic scale you don’t have standing companies making huge steady profits over the course of multiple years.”

 

Meg Fowler

 


[1] As of publishing, there are 78 patent applications that result from a search for “blockchain” on the US Patent & Trademark Office website and 12 existing patents from the same search.

[2] “The system stores a digital record of a person’s ID on a smart card, along with an array of additional information such as electronic cash, social welfare entitlements and dental/health records. ‘The system facilitates the integration of refugees by making it quick and easy for them to prove their identity and not get caught up in the asylum process,’ states AID:Tech. By scanning the smart card at an appropriate location, a government employee can see what language the person speaks, social services they are entitled to and who their family members are. The smart card can be topped-up remotely, acting like a mobile bank account, and empowering the refugee to spend digital cash freely in participating stores.” Luke Parker, AID:Tech Offers Blockchain Solutions to Help United Nations and European Commission with Refugee Problems, Brave New Coin, http://bravenewcoin.com/news/aidtech-offers-blockchain-solutions-to-help-united-nations-and-european-commission-with-refugee-problems.

 

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