Blockchains & Patents Part I: Why Patent Blockchain Inventions?

Key Takeaway:

We know by now blockchains are here to stay. Read on if you're part of a blockchain startup and want to protect your efforts and value.

Table of Contents

Blockchains are here to stay. The world seems to have finally accepted this news and Web3 is currently being built in view of it. As with any new technology, blockchain patents are one way innovators are capitalizing on their genius innovations and hard work.

Why should I patent my blockchain application?

Patents can protect—and reward—the time, energy, and treasure you invest into solving problems. A patent gives the patent holder a temporary monopoly on the invention by providing a nationwide right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention. Whether from large companies or from fledgling startups, these inventions often form the business’s core value. This is why intellectual property protection—particularly patents—are often sought early.

Who is patenting blockchain applications?

Whether you are in the open source camp or not, there is no denying that there is a race to carve up the blockchain patent space. Below is a list of top applicants for blockchain patents from July 2022. Note that some of these players are actually under common ownership. As you can see, there are quite a few top players here, and the number of applications they have in are certainly more than trivial.

Applicant#
IBM346
Beijing Baidu Netcom Sci & Tech Co LTD268
Advanced New Technologies Co LTD259
Alipay Hangzhou Inf Tech Co LTD168
Pure Storage INC161
Toyota Motor North America INC123
Nchain Holdings LTD97
Bank of America78
Capital One Services LLC70
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co68

And the owner’s list of granted patents tells a similar story:

Owner#
IBM347
Advanced New Technologies Co LTD255
Advantageous New Technologies Co LTD161
Alibaba Group Holding Limited161
Alipay (Hangzhou) Information Technology Co LTD161
Beijing Baidu Netcom Sci & Tech Co LTD145
Toyota Motor North America INC107
Pure Storage INC107
Beijing Baidu Netcom Science Technology Co LTD95
Bank of America75

These are some abstract numbers, and, admittedly, they don’t have much practical meaning taken alone.

What happens if I don’t patent my blockchain application?

The more interesting question is: how does this affect a small startup with a brilliant new blockchain solution? It shows what these nimble startups are up against: there are very likely others trying to solve the same problems, and big players like IBM and The Ant Group are putting their best minds to it. And, beyond merely solving the problems, these large organizations have robust patent programs in place to secure their inventions—even if facially incremental improvements—as soon as they invent them. The trouble here is, what happens if they get to the patent office first?

The United States, like the any other major nation (read: market), has a first-to-file patent system, not a first-to-invent patent system. Thus, there’s really no utility to mailing an envelope to yourself to prove you invented something first.

To cut right to the chase, if any of these big players comes up with a similar solution to yours, and they patent it, they may be able to stop you from marketing or selling your own service or product. On the flip side, if you get to the patent office first, you could find yourself in an excellent and marketable negotiating position with the world’s foremost technology and financial institutions.

Click here to read about how to go about obtaining a blockchain patent in Part II.

If you have questions regarding blockchain patents, feel free to grab some time on my calendar by clicking here.

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