The blockchain, the digital ledger system that underlies the boom in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, is an innovation born within the open-source software community, where software coders pride themselves on the sharing of information. But the blockchain’s open-source formative years may not stay that way.
As bitcoin nears $20,000 and other digital currencies experience unprecedented gains, some of the biggest names in the corporate world are seeking patents related to the blockchain — financial companies like Visa, retailers like Walmart and the tech old guard like IBM. And in what likely would cause distress in the open-source movement, in late November one of the business world’s most notorious patent trolls hatched plans to create and amass a trove of blockchain patents.
Erich Spangenberg, who became notorious in Silicon Valley for challenging tech patents, has put together a new group to unlock the value in blockchain IP. Spangenberg wrote in a recent blog post, “The financial press is having fun talking about Bitcoin, but another important story that gets less attention is the technology underlying Bitcoin called ‘blockchain.'”
A patent war “is inevitable,” said Nick Spanos, founder and CEO of Blockchain Technologies, which has patented a blockchain-based election voting system among a handful of blockchain patents. He also is co-founder of the blockchain-based smart contract app Zap Project.
“There are a lot of applications out there that people do to make their company look good with press releases and fluff, when they want to make their company look good. … The legal battles will ensue; we will see what the landscape looks like when the dust settles.”