Aspects of the technology, industry ethos spur new approach to patent pools, pledges By Michaela Ross Blockchain patent wars may be looming, and companies are experimenting with preventive measures. Startups and industry leaders, like IBM Corp. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, are winning patents for the technology that is fueling cryptocurrencies and being applied to traditional businesses.
“It’s unsurprising to me because they’re obviously taking lessons from other industries like telecom.” A surging number of blockchain experiments and related patent applications across various industries present ripe opportunities for patent assertion entities or trolls, as they’re often known, who could hamper innovation if not properly contained, patent attorneys say. Many blockchain-related startups will likely fail, creating opportunities for trolls to scoop up their intellectual property and seek profits by suing other companies for allegedly infringing those patents, the attorneys say.
“That is a troll’s gold mine,” Colette Reiner Mayer, an intellectual property litigation partner with Morrison & Foerster LLP, told Bloomberg Law. Companies like Bank of America Corp. and Facebook Inc. filed 700 blockchain-related patent applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, with the office granting about 70 of those filings, Bloomberg Law data from 2011 to April 30 show.
Its more than 2,000 members include blockchain patent holders like IBM and Google, he said. Marta Belcher, intellectual property attorney at Ropes & Gray LLP, told Bloomberg Law that more of her startup clients also are asking about placing their patents in the Defensive Patent License (DPL), a pool developed in 2012 that makes member company patents available royalty-free. Meanwhile, large financial service companies—which have been some of the top blockchain patent winners in the U.S.—are more likely to stick to established networks that give them more control over their patents, such as the LOT Network, Leslie Spencer, partner at law firm Ropes & Gray LLP, said.