14 April 2022

On February 15th, 2022, the Blockchain Task Force established by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) published a White Paper on blockchain technologies and IP ecosystems. Overall, WIPO is favorable to a massive adoption of these new technologies, although it highlights several uncertainties, including interoperability, standardization, governance and regulatory framework.

potential applications of blockchain for the IP ecosystem

The IP ecosystem is defined as a “network of various actors (e.g., creators, inventors, enterprises, organizations, IP offices and enforcement authorities) that interact with each other in collaborative and competitive ways in the IP environment, using resources to generate, protect, manage and/or commercialize intellectual assets”.

The interactions within this ecosystem can be modeled into an IP value chain, described as a life cycle model with four phases:

  • Generation: all steps from the initial idea with potential IP value to the existence of an intangible asset eligible for IP protection;
  • Protection: all activities involved in obtaining legal protection for an intangible asset in the form of IP rights;
  • Management: activities that the IP right holder may undertake to develop and raise the value of the IP right portfolio;
  • Commercialization: all activities directly involved in generating revenue from the IP rights portfolio.

Based on this IP value chain, the Blockchain Task Force distinguishes between two categories of blockchain solutions:

  • Blockchain vertical use cases: solutions with potential applications in a single phase (IP registers, evidence of generation, track and trace of source of origin, etc.);
  • Blockchain horizontal use cases: solutions with potential applications in several phases(time-stamping, transactions via smart contract, proof of existence, etc.).

Focus on NFT applications

The Blockchain Task Force promotes non-fungible tokens (NFT) as a tool to:

  • Attribute authorship, ownership and authenticity to digital works;
  • Manage the economic exploitation rights on a digital item through smart contracts (e.g., the resale percentage to be paid to the author for each transaction on the NFT).

However, it also raises the importance of clarifying the legal value of smart contracts and the legal classification of tokens, through a clear and harmonized regulatory framework. It is in this context that the negotiations on the European Markets in Crypto assets (MiCA) regulation are taking place.

Focus on anti-counterfeiting applications

Blockchain applications may significantly impact the prevention and prosecution of counterfeiting and piracy activities.

Blockchain solutions, sometimes combined with AI-based technology, are already being used or are under development in both the private (e.g., the tool developed by Alibaba that will allow customers to verify the authenticity of a product by scanning the code on the product) and public sectors (e.g., IP Australia is using blockchain, via its Smart Trade Mark™ digital fingerprint tool, to provide a solution to solve supply chain weaknesses).