Beyond banking and payments: When blockchain and brand IP meet

Bitcoin and its disruptive little brother Blockchain have been the biggest revolution to hit the finance industry for a century. Now, this duo are even remodeling how brands use creative intellectual property (IP).

A digital payment system made by 'secretive genius' Satoshi Nakamoto (no one knows for sure who he is) and able to transfer funds securely without the need for banks. Welcome to the bold beginnings of the bitcoin economy.

Back in 2009, no one was expecting the world’s first decentralised currency that could empower peer-to-peer transactions without intermediaries. It required a combination of properties which, up to that point, hadn’t been solved -- requiring a way to prevent the same bitcoin being spent twice by the same person, and doing so without relying on trusted third parties (conventionally, the banks).

Blockchain is born

The mysterious Satoshi, and his even more mysterious tech harem, were determined to satisfying these conditions. By applying advanced cryptographic principles alongside traditional financial ledger concepts they enabled mathematically provable versions of truth; these would be impossible to modify or forge, freely visible to everyone and able to scale without the need for a centralised, trusted party. Blockchain was born.

But Blockchain didn’t simply enable the bitcoin phenomena. The technology showed capabilities that spread far beyond just payment and currency. The possibilities today are vast – imagine all the industries reliant on trusted intermediaries to establish truths: insurance, healthcare, electoral systems, land registries, to name just a few.

The most compelling now perhaps, is how Blockchain can become an enabler of intellectual property (IP) rights for brands.

Ownership of ideas

IP refers to ideas created by the human mind. In the creative and information economy, IP is a precious commodity with strong incentives to approve and enforce ownership.

As with more tangible types of property, rights also exist for IP. These were first recognised at a series of conventions at the end of the 19th Century, and are currently administered by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). Without mechanisms to enforce ownership of IP, there would be little economic incentive to invent new things. It is an essential protection for maintaining a business-friendly environment and spurring innovation.

When it comes to Blockchain, however, it’s a game changer once again. Blockchain is able to create an indelible record of bitcoin transactions. It can also provide an indisputable record of registered IP, whether they be patents, trademarks or copyrights.

The open nature of Blockchain means the registration is freely visible to all, and new registrations can easily be submitted with little reliance on larger organisations. By establishing a secure database it can help serve as a neutral, unbiased arbiter in ownership disputes.

Take brand identity creation as an example. As with all creative disciplines, when developing new identities for organisations there can be visual or conceptual similarities with existing, independently produced work. While this is often a coincidence, it can also be a case of intentional plagiarism. A Blockchain database containing dated records of visual identities can provide evidence of prior work, and prove who created the concept first.

There are also scenarios where traditional IP registration procedures could be considered overkill. Certain types of creative works may not justify the time or cost required to formally register a copyright. These could be classified as 'bite-sized' IP – property that doesn’t require a huge investment to create, but which still has incentives to establish ownership and attribution.

Think blog posts, or even images shared on social media. A Blockchain-based registration can provide a quicker, cheaper and overall more lightweight solution.

Democratisation and the future

Although standards and licensing bodies exist to register and help enforce intellectual property disputes, there are often financial and bureaucratic barriers limiting the size of the audience able to use these services. Blockchain technology can greatly simplify the ability to create 'proof of existence', putting it within reach of an entirely new group of people.

As we’ve seen before, technological innovations continue to democratise services that were formerly only available to a small subset of the population. This trend will continue to gain pace, and gives us reason to be confident about a future where more people have a fair and equal chance of succeeding. Perhaps, even the banks.

Marc Lamothe, Technical Director at Start

Image source: Shutterstock/StockPhotoAstur