The number of patents relating to blockchain is on the rise. According to data collected by the Korean Intellectual Property Office, more than 1240 applications for blockchain-related patents were filed across South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, and Europe by the end of January 2018.
South Korean news source the CS Times reported that the vast majority (78 percent) of the applications filed came from the US and China, while Korea was responsible for eight percent. Three percent of the applications were of Japanese origin. Many of the products patented focus on the application of blockchain to logistics, medical services, and public services.
The figure shows a consistent trend in more than doubling the amount of patents filed in previous years – 594 in 2016, 258 in 2015, and 27 in 2013.
Everybody wants in
While the majority of the patents being filed are spread across a host of newcomers and startups in the blockchain field, plenty of well-established firms have invented and patented blockchain products of their own within the last year.
Among other blockchain-related filings by Mastercard, the company filed for a blockchain-based payment system in November of 2017. Bank of America has filed multiple applications for blockchain products over the past several years and Walmart, IBM, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase are also counted on the list of filers.
The blockchain technology is adopted in several business domains.
Walmart received a patent on a “smart package” system that will utilize blockchain technology to better track and authenticate packages. #blockchain #technology pic.twitter.com/92Hb8BFG3x
— Genesis (@genesis_found) March 17, 2018
The accelerating rate at which blockchain-related patents are appearing on the scene is certainly a sign of the times. Nick Spanos, founder and CEO of Blockchain Technologies, said that patent wars similar to those fought during the software boom of the late 1990s are “inevitable.”
“We don’t want to find ourselves locked out of using our own invention”
A September 2016 report by Alix Partners entitled ‘The Race to Patent the Blockchain’ reads: “the race to patent [blockchain] could lead ultimately to the next big battle over technology standards and who owns them.”
In the same report, JPMorgan’s Andy Cadel said that “if we invent something and we file a patent, that means no one else can patent it. We don’t want to find ourselves locked out of using our own invention.”
In December of 2017, CNBC reported that ‘patent trolls’ were coming for blockchain individuals and entire firms who seek to make fortunes off of amassing blockchain patents. Nick Spangenberg, a notable patent entrepreneur, said that his firm IPwe is also looking to make big money by reforming the whole patent world.
“It is a curious path how a collection of misfit trolls, geeks and wonks ended up here—but we are going to crush it and make a fortune,” said Spangenburg.
Indeed, it seems that everyone wants a piece of the blockchain patent pie. We’ll have to wait and see who will actually get it.