As China continues to race ahead of the rest of the world in terms of blockchain patents filed, the European Patent Office is encouraging blockchain businesses in the region to file more patent applications.
As this exciting technology finds wider adoption, many of us working in the IP field are turning our eyes to how this technology may be patented so that innovation in this area can be encouraged and cultivated.
Blockchain patenting is taking off and 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, and the US following a close second. Further, as discussed at the recent European Patent Office conference on patenting blockchain, 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.
Although it may be increasingly difficult to obtain enabling or "core" patents (patents that represent an organization’s core competency) 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.
China is leading the way with blockchain patents
The UK has the third highest number of blockchain developers (approx 13,000) 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.
As reported previously, China and the US are very much leading the way, with IBM and Alibaba being the top two patent filers for blockchain technology worldwide – and with Alibaba, as well as fellow Chinese companies Tencent and Baidu accounting for over 50% of blockchain-based patent applications in 2017.
It therefore would appear that European 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.
Its aim was, by explaining how it goes about searching and examining blockchain inventions, to enable innovators in this area to obtain patent protection more efficiently. Perhaps businesses in the UK and Europe 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 their..
Practical steps to obtaining patent protection
As to practical steps that innovators keen to obtain patent protection in this area can take, their best bet is to speak to an experienced European patent attorney. Working with the patent attorney they can help to navigate the pitfalls of unpatentable subject matter, and frame a patent application in the best light possible for it to be granted as quickly as possible.
This will likely include identifying what technical effect the invention achieves. Inventions where the technical effect lies in the application of the blockchain technology to a real world problem (for example relating to controlling access to patient data, vehicle theft prevention, and cryptography) are likely to perform much better than those relating to business methods and supply chain management.
Although working with an experienced patent attorney may increase costs in the immediate short term, in the long term the time taken to get the application right from the outset will help to improve the prospects for a patent to be granted, and ultimately decrease costs in the long term.
About the author: Andrew White is a managing associate and patent attorney at Mathys & Squire, a European law firm specializing in intellectual property. He is Experienced in managing international portfolios particularly in the fields of Medtech, Software, Telecoms and Automotive, Andrew advises clients and their technical teams on how IP can be used as a tool to help the business grow.