Most people associate blockchain technology with Bitcoin, which has dominated headlines over the past couple years and sparked the public conversation about cryptocurrency. However, versatile blockchain technology, often described as the “new internet,” has the unique potential to be functional in many different fields, specifically intellectual property registration. 

Blockchain is an immutable record of time-stamped data that is managed and distributed throughout various independent computers, making up a universal ledger. This ledger allows Blockchain to be substituted for transactions that would otherwise be done by a third party. Using a ledger cuts out many of the economic and procedural inefficiencies that can often be created through the oversight and administration of third-party transactions. Therefore, this feature seems to be a no-brainer for a costly intellectual property system that is constantly backlogged with patent applications and is currently receiving a record number of trademark applications. A faster and more efficient system will also provide greater, real-time notice of the specifics of currently filed inventions to future inventors, so as to avoid wasteful duplicative filings.

As if this is not enough, there is another feature of blockchain technology that seems particularly appealing for our nation’s intellectual property system: an immutable, time-stamped record. A patent system that affords its coveted exclusion rights on a “first-to-file” basis could benefit greatly from a system that secures a fixed filing date, which is instantaneously distributed throughout a universal ledger. This verified “filing date” would be especially useful for tricky international inventions. 

A move to the “new internet” would likely be dramatic, timely, and require a lot of work upfront for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”). Even with this new development, the USPTO would still face the same challenges as other industries who are also pursuing the blockchain revolution. However, it is hard to look at the potential benefits of this switch and not see the exciting potential for a full-scale reform of intellectual property registration using blockchain.

A fast, efficient, secure, and dependable intellectual property registry finally seems to be within our reach; we may just have to suffer through a few growing pains to get there.

Kylie Feger

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