Although the blockchain has been present in the tech consciousness for a few years now, It is incredibly young compared to many of the legal frameworks it operates under. As a blockchain startup, a fundamental knowledge of intellectual property law is a must. Of course, a legal team or consultant is an important part of any growing company, but companies can save a lot of money and grief by understanding the basics from the very start. This article will cover the essential things to know about intellectual property in general and more specifically about blockchain intellectual property.
What is IP Law and Why Does It Matter?
Intellectual property, or IP, refers to intangible things that can be owned or managed by individuals and businesses.
The blockchain is by its very nature intangible. Sure, you can break down its process to electrons moving within circuit boards, but software generally always falls within the intellectual property label.
In order to understand the way in which blockchain startups can be affected by (and benefit from) intellectual property law and specifically blockchain intellectual property law(s), it helps to understand the four primary categories of IP regulation:
- Copyrights, which are familiar to most people, cover creative work. This can include art, music, writing, and even code writing. Copyrights enable the holder to limit infringement by anyone else for many years, even after death.
- Trade secrets cover anything giving a business an advantage in the market that must be kept secret to be effective. Think things like In’n’Out’s secret sauce, a secret way of producing a metal alloy, or even something as simple as a vendor list.
- Next, we have trademarks. A trademark is essentially any business identifier, like a company name, logo, or catchphrase. Trademarks can also extend to “soundmarks”, like jingles and themes, if they are closely and consistently tied to the brand (i.e. the NBC chimes).
- Patents are our last, and most applicable, category. A patent allows a company to have a temporary monopoly on developing, producing, and selling an invention. Patents give companies recourse if their inventions are stolen by predatory businesses, which can happen to unprotected startups quite often.
Let’s see how patents play into the blockchain startup market.
IP Types, Blockchain Startups, and Blockchain Intellectual Property
Now that we’ve covered some IP law basics, where do blockchain companies fit in? It turns out that all four domains can apply to your blockchain startup. Any company can file to register a trademark to protect their brand identity.
Copyrights are less common in this sphere, seeing as much of the coding work that goes into a new blockchain interface or system may be more beneficial if kept secret. Trade secrets, then, would be a better option.
Patenting Blockchain Tech
The heavy hitter in the startup world is patenting. Even though patent costs can be significant for a small company, filing a successful patent can be a financial boon later down the line. As mentioned earlier, patents can protect from predatory businesses. But there are other benefits as well.
Patents reward startups who create something unique; they’re an incentive to innovate and take some risks. In order to be patent-eligible, an invention needs to be novel, non-obvious, and cannot merely be a vague idea.
According to J.D. Houvener, a Los Angeles patent attorney, these requirements are often misunderstood.
“Many people try to patent too early, too late, or with not enough information. Although it’s never too early to consult a patent attorney, many ideas end up being just that: ideas, without a plan in place to put them to use. Novelty is also a tricky one. Patent searches are necessary to see if you really are the first to propose your patent. If so, you’re in luck, and should get moving on the process as quickly as possible,” Houvener says.
With blockchain, most new startups are using existing technology in new ways. If your startup is utilizing blockchain in a novel enough fashion, you may be eligible for a utility patent, granting you 20 years of a limited monopoly on your concept.
Another avenue for patenting is the design patent. Design patents, as the name implies, cover the aesthetic and user interface aspects of technologies. This may be an easier route for a company that provides a similar service to a lot of others but can distinguish itself via a unique design (which may influence consumer decisions greatly!).
Intellectual property law is particularly important in the tech world, where a lot of the property tends to be intellectual.
Blockchain startups occupy a unique niche in that respect; while the fundamental basis of the blockchain is not new and remains similar across businesses, there are other aspects of these companies that can be protected under IP law.
A good understanding of IP law can help any startup stay protected, and consult the right people at the right point in the patent process. If you think your startup should consider filing a patent, consult a professional to see what options are out there for you.
We hope this article was a helpful introduction to the intellectual property world. For more on blockchain and related topics, check out our articles!
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the guest author. The facts disclosed, the copyrights used and the opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views and/or responsibilities of Askrypto.com and Askrypto.com does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
Please report any anomalies to [email protected]