Patenting Blockchain: missed opportunities for UK businesses?

Bitcoin, and Blockchain, the technology on which it is based, have become something of buzzwords ever since Satoshi Nakamoto’s 2008 white-paper [1] introduced the concept of Bitcoin to the community. As this exciting technology finds wider adoption, many of us working in the IP field are turning their eyes as to how this technology may be patented so that innovation in this area can be encouraged and cultivated.

FinTech Weekly
Jan 16 · 3 min read

by Andrew White, Managing Associate, Mathys & Squire

It may come as no surprise that the number of patent applications being filed for Blockchain technologies is increasing at a (seemingly) exponential rate — 2900 have been filed in the period 2013–17, with 55.4% of these being in China, with the US following a close second. However, the number of filings we will be seeing in this area is predicted to increase even further — spurred on by an approx 280% growth in investment from 2017 to 2018 [2].

Although it may be increasingly difficult to obtain enabling or “core” patents in the Blockchain field as it becomes increasingly crowded, the growing uses and applications of Blockchain technology to sectors as diverse as medical records, food tracking and drug tagging will themselves be patentable and it is likely that we will see increased filings in these areas in the coming years.

The UK has the third highest number of Blockchain developers (approx 13,000 [3]) behind the US and India, yet the number of patent filings from British-based companies is surprisingly very low — only nChain make it into the top 10 patent filers for Blockchain technology worldwide. China and the US are very much leading the way, with IBM and Alibaba being the top 2 patent filers for Blockchain technology worldwide [4].

It therefore would appear that UK businesses may be missing an opportunity in protecting their Blockchain innovations. The European Patent Office (EPO) are keen to grant patents in this area, and held an inaugural conference on 4th December on patenting Blockchain and related technologies. Their aim was, by explaining how they go about searching and examining Blockchain inventions, to enable innovators in this area to obtain patent protection more efficiently. Perhaps UK businesses should take heed of their Chinese and US competitors and wake up to the rapidly evolving IP landscape in the Blockchain field — and take advantage of the EPO’s seemingly favourable and predictable approach to Blockchain patentability to protect their innovations in Europe.

Andrew is experienced in managing international portfolios particularly in the fields of Medtech, Software, Telecoms and Automotive.


Sources:
[1] https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf
[2] Cryptoground.com, Oct 2018, diar.co Volume 2 issue 39, Oct 2018, moneycontrol.com, Nov 2018, coindesk.com Oct 2018, icoalert.com Apr 2018, managingip.com, Apr 2018, Bloomberg Law, May 2018
[3] EPO Conference on Patenting Blockchain, 4 December 2018
[4] EPO Conference on Patenting Blockchain, 4 December 2018


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