The Blockchain Patent Gold Rush
The blockchain technology underlying BitCoin and other cryptocurrencies was originally designed and conceived as an open protocol that would not be owned by any one centralized entity, whether government or private. Just like other foundational protocols that were created in the early days of the internet (email is based on POP, SMTP and IMAP, and websites rely on HTTP, and file transfers use FTP and TCP/IP), no one really owns these protocols. No one collects royalties or patent licensing fees for the use of these protocols (…though some patent assertion entities might argue otherwise).
Similarly, the peer-to-peer vision underlying “the blockchain” was conceptually directed to maintaining the integrity of peer-to-peer transactions that function outside the realm of a centralized overseer such as a bank or government registry. Where, traditionally, a bank served as the trusted and verifiable record of a transaction, the use of blockchain technology could provide an alternative trusted and verifiable record of a transaction. No bank required.
It should come as no surprise, then, that banks are rushing to own a piece of this space.
A recent U.S. report shows: “The financial industry dominates the list of the top ten blockchain-related patent holders.… Leading the list is Bank of America with 43 patents, MasterCard International with 27 patents, FMR LLC (Fidelity) with 14 patents, and TD Bank with 11 patents. Other major financial institutions with blockchain patents include Visa Inc. with 7 patents, American Express with 6 patents, and Nasdaq Inc. with 5 patents.” (Blockchain Patent Filings Dominated by Financial Services Industry, Posted on January 12, 2018 by Alex Lee)
Will the privatization of blockchain technologies spur adoption of this technology in the business-to-business layer? Or will the patent gold rush merely erect proprietary fences in a way that constrains adoption?