The Best Defense for your Idea is a Blockchain Record

Courts Recognize Blockchain Record as Defense of Intellectual Property Rights

A court in China has admitted blockchain-based evidence in a copyright dispute, which, to my knowledge, is the first time that blockchain technology has been recognized in civil law proceedings. The June 2018 judgement may have introduced a new form of evidence – online evidence -- of copyright infringement. The court checked the encryption hash values stored on both parties’ blockchains. Screenshots, source code and call log of the controversial article were stored in the encryption hash (info.legal-patent.com/international-intellectual-property/blockchain-based-evidence-approved-china).

Capturing Intellectual Property with Lab Notebooks

The repercussions of the Chinese court’s action are immediately apparent to inventors and managers of all types of intellectual property (IP). The implication is that the best practice for IP management is to record ideas electronically and capture them in the blockchain so there is an irrefutable attestation trail. This practice applies regardless of the stage of the IP lifecycle, whether an initial idea or a developed invention. (See diagram for various terminology used for IP). Yet, many people still use only paper notebooks or a simple spreadsheet to record their ideas and property. According to a survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit, fewer than 5% of organisations use any management system for their IP. (www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2002/09/12/patently-problematic). Even more alarming is that few organisations know what innovations and IP they have. An example of this was publicly recounted by a former Vice Chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank. When he inquired about the development of electronic payment systems within the bank, he found 53 different projects looking at e-bill payment methods, each unaware of the existence of the others. 

The solution to this defect is simply a variation of the paper laboratory notebook or spreadsheet record, updated as an e-notebook with a blockchain record.  For more informal situations, an e-suggestion box with a blockchain record will suffice. One of the objectives of notebooks is to be proof of origin of innovations and their evolution. Tricks, such as inserting pages and replacing diagrams in laboratory notebooks, have occurred, so paper notebooks are not irrefutable. A few dishonest occurrences have tended to cast doubt on uses of all lab notebooks. The e-notebook with blockchain recording can address this problem by obviating such tricks. 

Another major advantage of e-notebooks over paper notebooks and spreadsheets is that they provide encryption with blockchain. An idea or innovation – including, for example, your IP – is encrypted with a cryptographic hash that produces a digital fingerprint (also referred to as the message digest) of the idea and its associated documentation, diagrams, supporting material and attachments. The digital fingerprint is time-stamped and added to the blockchain, thus producing an irrefutable audit trail that can neither be challenged nor altered. The blockchain can record all updates as they are created.  Every access (if the inventor decides to grant other people access and viewing permission – with a non-disclosure agreement as pre-requisite), modification, science witness signature and update to the innovation can be logged, hashed, time-stamped, and added to the blockchain, regardless of who performs the access. Permissions for access, viewing and transfer of encryption keys also protect the IP from both internal and state-sponsored theft.

Terms That Describe Intellectual Property Roxanne Andrieux

Cyber Security for Intellectual Property

An additional best practice that will prevent unauthorized access and theft of IP is the use of secure data enclaves for compute environments and IP storage. A full-fledged tool for intellectual property management (IPM) should use impenetrable cyber security tools. These tools include secure data enclaves with software-defined perimeters surrounding them --  tools that are recognized by the Cloud Security Alliance (https://cloudsecurityalliance.org/working-groups/software-defined-perimeter/#_overview).

Secure recording and storage systems are vital, but some organisations do not permit storage of any IP on servers outside of the organisation. Such a barrier can be overcome by running  the hash algorithm and registering only its output, i.e. the digital fingerprint, with the blockchain technology and secure enclave provided by the external IPM or service provider. In that way, if any actor were to breach the external facility, the only material that it would obtain would be the 256-character fingerprint, which is insufficient for reconstituting the IP in any way. The digital fingerprint still serves as legal evidence. At the same time, this method satisfies the need of ultra-cautious persons and those organisations that have specific in-house rules for data storage, such as, “no proprietary content can be stored on outside servers." 

The technology that the Ideation IPM uses for cyber protection has three components:

1. Software Defined Perimeter. SDP is a relatively new technology developed by Vidder (acquired by Verizon at the end of 2018, enterprise.verizon.com/resources/vidder/). A key feature of SDP is that each authorised access is made through a hole that is only one internet protocol address wide. This restriction specifically identifies the entity, device and location of the individual that is attempting to access encrypted data. SDP  has never been breached, despite tens of billions of attacks in five major hackathons, including zero-day exploits and a reward of $1 million. 

Sdp Archtecture By Vidder Roxanne Andrieux

2. Fully Homomorphic Encryption. FHE addresses a common encryption problem, i.e., to use a document it must be decrypted. With FHE, certain operations can be performed on an encrypted document while it remains encrypted. These operations include: searches for keywords and compilation of aggregate statistical data (e.g., statistical operations and data analysis of large medical records). Ideation uses a new algorithm for FHE that is extremely fast and is the first practical, viable algorithm.

3. User Behaviour Analytics. UBA protects against authorised insiders who go rogue (e.g., Snowden and Manning). If UBA had been in place in those instances, the organisation would have seen that the users’ behaviours had changed radically, such as downloading vast amounts of documents, perhaps outside of the users’ normal working hours.

Commercialization of Ideas and Innovation 

 To enhance the monetization of IP, collaborators, tech buyers, and funds must be able to find ideas and innovations in which to invest. To make this possible while research and development is conducted in secure work spaces, the work can be recorded to the blockchain in two separate parts: one, a basic summary containing public information, and the second in a proprietary work space for confidential details, refinements, additions and improvements. The public content part resembles a marketing abstract or executive summary, whereas the confidential portion contains secret information. This arrangement facilitates discovery of the public portion of an innovation by potential licensees and collaborators, which is essential for monetization of inventions yet enables the core part of an innovation to remain secret, encrypted and secure. Furthermore, use of FHE allows the core work to be searched with keywords while the work remains encrypted. Of course, each portion should be recorded and registered to the blockchain with separate access privileges for viewing. 

Gateway for Rapid Monetization of Innovation

A "gateway" to the outside world is another feature that enhances realization and commercialization of innovations registered on the secure enclaves of Ideation’s system. The keywords and data designated available for public access and viewing, such as the marketing abstracts and executive summaries, are copied to a gateway server accessible to Google and other popular search engines. If there is a keyword match, the searcher is informed and may request access from the owner of the IP document containing the keyword, with both parties remaining anonymous until they agree to disclose.

What happens if specific keywords used for discovery are not in the public portion but only in the proprietary portion? Ideation IPM allows for the encrypted, proprietary portions to be searchable while the IP remains encrypted. The keyword and the secure IP data are not decrypted for search; they remain encrypted, and the searching party is informed that there has been a hit. The searching party may request permission to view the proprietary portion from the owner. Ideation also has its own proprietary blockchain in which all the IP, activities and events are registered as a permanent, globally available, massively redundant ledger.

Concluding Remarks

Inventors in the Ideation system (at ideation.com) can protect their work with blockchain-based e-notebooks and, at the same time, make their inventions available to the whole world for licensing without compromising confidentiality, even their anonymity.

Contact: randrieux@ideation.com

Disclosure: The author is an investor in ideation™.

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