Francis Gurry led WIPO as Director General from October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2020.

WIPO Blockchain Workshop Probes Business and IP-Administration Uses

May 8, 2019

Blockchain applications are predicted to create trillions of dollars in new business value over the next decade as patenting activity in the sector shifts from crypto-currencies to smart contracts and distributed ledger applications, participants heard from speakers at a WIPO-hosted workshop.

The April 29-30, 2019, workshop probed blockchain technology and its application to intellectual property (IP).  While blockchain is well-known as the technology on which cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, are based, innovators have been working on many other uses for the technology, speakers said at the two-day event bringing together 160 participants including blockchain experts and IP experts from the private sector, IP Offices, academia and intergovernmental organizations.

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(Photo: WIPO/Violaine Martin)

We have not yet explored the fully fledged utility and usefulness of blockchain, but this is an interest of IP offices and WIPO as well to explore the use of blockchain if it is to enhance the efficiency and productivity of intellectual property administration - inside or outside of IP offices.

said WIPO Assistant Director General Yo Takagi in welcoming participants to the ”WIPO Standards Workshop on Blockchain” on behalf of Director General Francis Gurry.

Mr. Takagi highlighted the need for IP Offices to better understand blockchain technologies so that appropriate business cases can be developed for its use and potentially enhance IP right (IPR) management during various phases of the IPR lifecycle.

The workshop consisted of two general themes: on the first day, blockchain technology and its standardization efforts; and on the second day, use cases for blockchain for IP and potential areas for standardization when IP data is managed on a blockchain.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain is peer-to-peer distributed record of a series of secure transactions. Each actor in the network holds the same true copy of the ledger and in order for a new transaction to be appended to the ledger, it must first be validated by the other actors.  There are two types of blockchains: private, where there are restrictions over who can participate in the blockchain and what they can do, or public, where anyone can read or write to the ledger.

Day one began with keynote speech from Thomas Struck, Executive Partner, Gartner, Inc., who said that blockchain will create 3.1 trillion USD in business value by 2030, but that business investments will not significantly increase until 2023.

Nikolay Popov, Head of the Center for Advanced Technologies at Russian IP Office Rospatent, presented a patent landscape report capturing patent applications within the field of blockchain technology between 2013 to 2018. The report identified Bank of America, Alibaba and IBM as some of the largest patentees in the area and said the study showed a shift away from cryptocurrencies and toward business applications such as smart contracts and distributed ledgers.

Leading Blockchain platform providers Ethereum and Hyperledger introduced their open-source technology platforms and several speakers reported on the current use cases of blockchain within private and public sectors, including their use within a supply chain. Day one concluded with a discussion of the standards that are being developed in the area of blockchain by organizations such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Organization for Standardization (ITU) and the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT).

Day two began with keynote speech by Birgit Clark from Baker McKenzie and focused on the current applications of the technology to IP, potential future use cases and its opportunities and challenges for the IP ecosystem.  A representative from the copyright industry discussed a blockchain network that aims to simplify payments to artists for the use of their creations, and patent information providers, provided concrete examples of blockchain implementations currently being trialed in this space.  Several IP related potential use cases were reported by IP Offices, including IP rights management and smart trademarks.  To conclude the workshop, there was a discussion of opportunities and challenges which the use of a blockchain within an IP ecosystem represents, including interoperability of different blockchain platforms and issues with establishing the identity of actors on a chain.

One interesting outcome of the discussion was confirmation by blockchain experts that this technology is not a ‘silver bullet’ for all process-driven problems.  Potential uses should be carefully studied to see whether they would actually benefit from use of a blockchain. 

What’s Next?

Participants from the workshop sought leadership from WIPO in supporting blockchain enabled applications for IP ecosystem, including in particular the type of governance it could provide. The Blockchain Task Force of the Committee on WIPO Standards (CWS) will investigate the most effective use of this technology within the IP space and to what degree standardization is required.