BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY: A STATE-OF-THE-ART
“The Blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value”
- Dan & Alex Tapscott
If we travel back in time, recording and collection of data was carried out manually and maintained in the form of journals arranged in a chronological sequence. With the development of technology, collection of data became simplified thus eliminating the laborious task of recording data manually. Various techniques have evolved to store data and information – one of them includes Blockchain technology. It is a breakthrough technology that is claimed and perceived to be one of the revolutionary technologies that will have an enormous impact on our lives in the years to come. The technology is a brainchild of a person or a group of people known by the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto”.
What is a Blockchain?
The Blockchain is an open ledger system of information that can be used to record data and transactions, which is later verified and exchanged by way of a peer-to-peer network. Blockchain technology creates a transparent and trustworthy record by allowing multiple parties to a transaction to verify what will be entered in a ledger without a single party having the ability to alter entries made to the ledger. A record of all the transactions and data exchanges are made where the record is known as the “ledger” and the data exchanges are known as “transactions”. Each transaction or “block” is transmitted to all the participants in the network and must be verified by each participant by solving a complex mathematical puzzle. Once the verification process is complete, the transaction is then added to the Blockchain and cannot be altered. The blocks are then time stamped and connected by way of cryptographic links thus resulting in a chain.
The innovative feature behind this distributed ledger system is that the technology operates on a decentralized system dispensing with the need for a central authority. All the transactions conducted are verified by multiple computers connected to the server. Since all the blocks in the chain are interlinked and the earlier blocks provide the basis for subsequent blocks, the Blockchain is virtually untamperable. Traditionally, the concept of blockchain revolves around the concept of being an open and an anonymous network being open for anyone and everyone to see but there also exists private blockchains which pre-screens the individuals allowed to administer the ledger.
In 1994, Nick Szabo, a legal scholar and cryptographer, realized that a decentralized ledger can be used for smart contracts, also known as self-executing contracts or digital contracts. In this format, contracts will be converted in to a computer code that will further be stored and replicated into the system that will be supervised by the network of computers that run the blockchain. Smart contracts enable in exchange of money, property, shares and anything of value in a transparent manner sans the services of middlemen. These contracts are largely driven by the “If this, then that” principle.
Blockchain and IP
The Application of Blockchain in the realm of IP can be seen in two ways-
1. Ability for Blockchain technology to spur administrative efficiency:
In the current scenario, Intellectual Property is regulated and governed by third parties namely the government and administrative bodies in the respective geographical locations where IP are sought to be enforced. The main drawback of conventional regulatory authorities is that their verification and approval process is slow and time consuming. Sometimes the verification process of an invention will take a few days since laws vary greatly from country to country.
Advocates favouring the adoption of this technology desire a method to connect registries across the world through a decentralized ledger instead of a centralized one. Adoption of a centralized ledger serves its purpose in situations where Trade Mark or Patent Applications is to be filed in different countries since IP rights are territorial in nature.
The Blockchain shall contain all the necessary details pertaining to the life cycle of an IP from the date of its filing. The details entered shall remain untampered owing to the inherent nature of the Blockchain network. Having a centralized ledger will help eliminating the administrative snags in the time taken for the verification and approval process from the administrative bodies governing the IP laws of the country of origin of an IP.
Since all the necessary particulars pertaining to the IP are already stored within the Blockchain network, the registration process can take place smoothly weeding out the need for any middleman or approvals.
While it is easier said than done, the biggest obstacle in the creation of an internationally supported platform is the process of aligning the existing national and judicial framework of different nations since the laws vary from country to country.
2. Ability of Blockchain in the betterment of IP enforcement:
One of the biggest challenges associated with technological advancements is the menace of online piracy. The internet has made the process of downloading creative works simple by compromising the creator’s exclusive rights over his work of intellect. A precedent was set by an Internet Court in Hangzhou, China in December 2018 that admitted Blockchain as evidence while deciding a copyright dispute. The city is home to many famous online writers who earlier used to resort to internet screenshots and downloaded content as evidence which often lacked credibility. In the instant case, the Court observed that the Blockchain, owing to its nature of being virtually unalterable, the digital footprints pertaining to authorship, time of creation and evidence of infringement, was held to serve as sufficient evidence under the eyes of law.
Blockchain aids the rights of a creator by affixing a time stamp on the date of upload of the creative work and the details of the creator. This information stored in the Blockchain network can serve as evidence in situations of piracy or unauthorized copying thus answering the questions of ‘who did what’.
In cases of contracts pertaining to licensing of a copyrighted work, the royalty payments can be executed to the licensor in real-time once the work is used by the licensee curbing the need for any middlemen to be involved. The distributed ledger thus can aid in the licensing of copyrighted works via “Smart Contracts”. As stated earlier, a Smart Contract is a set of rules under which the parties to the Contract agree to interact with each other. Such contracts are automated and can execute themselves once the specific conditions are met.
Long road to adoption
Although the Blockchain seeks to revolutionize the IP system, the path is met with stumbling blocks. Despite certain Courts having taken cognizance of Blockchain as an admissible form of evidence, its full fledged adoption as evidence can take place only after the issues with regard to its governing laws, data privacy and security and definition of smart contracts are addressed.
Another obstacle to the adoption of this technology is the consumption of power. Powering all the nodes coupled with adequate cooling facilities makes it one of the highest energy consuming processes. We live in a world that is moving towards a greener environment by ensuring minimum exploitation of natural resources. This technology involves a high consumption of power that necessitates a system of checks and balances to ensure that the process takes place in an energy efficient manner.
Over the past few years, Blockchain has moved from being an esoteric technology to a new policy issue that is being considered seriously by the governments of different countries. This technology has certainly has certainly transcended from FinTech and is part of the next big change of how humans record data. Blockchain has promised to be an avenue for fewer disputes of ownership and the benefits that can be reaped from this technology by the creative world are immense.
Surana & Surana International Attorneys