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Alibaba, IBM Top Global Blockchain Patent Rankings, Says New Research

Major financial and technological enterprises from China and the U.S. are leading the global drive to develop blockchain applications, according to a new report that ranks entities by patents filed.

The research, released Friday by iPR Daily, a media outlet specializing in intellectual property, shows that Chinese internet giant Alibaba tops the list with a total of 90 patent applications focused on blockchain-related technologies.

In second place is IBM, which falls just one short of that total with 89 filings, while Mastercard occupies third place with 80 filings. Bank of America made it to fourth place, with 53 blockchain patent applications.

For its ranking, iPR Daily said it consolidated information from patent databases as of Aug. 10 from China, the U.S., Europe, Japan and South Korea, as well as the International Patent System from the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Notably, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC), fifth on the list, marks one of the few central banks in the world to have moved into the blockchain industry with a total of 44 patent applications focused on its planned central bank digital currency.

As CoinDesk reported in June, the PBoC’s Digital Currency Lab, spearheaded by Yao Qian, filed over 40 patent applications within 12 months of its launch. Each patent constitutes part of a major effort by the central bank to create a digital currency combining core features of cryptocurrency and the country’s existing monetary system.

Other notable companies on the iPR Daily list that have filed at least 20 blockchain-related patent applications include Tencent, Accenture, Ping An Insurance, Bitmain, Intel, Visa, Sony, Google and China’s State Grid Corporation.

The report arrives at a time when technologies developed by some of the featured firms are starting to be moved into real-world production.

For instance, Alibaba recently launched a payments corridor based on a distributed network will settle financial transactions for residents living in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Tencent also piloted an application via its WeChat messaging service that used blockchain to speed up the process of reimbursing corporate employees’ expenses.

Patent image via Shutterstock

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Baidu's Blockchain Photo App Launches With Its Own Token

Chinese internet search giant Baidu has launched a proprietary token to incentivize users of its new blockchain-based photo validating and sharing service.

The firm announced on Wednesday during a press conference in Beijing that the photo sharing platform – called Totem – is now live and features a dedicated token called Totem Point, according to a local news report. The launch marks the first blockchain application to be released on Baidu’s private XuperChain network.

Baidu said it will initially generate 4 billion Totem tokens with an annual inflation rate of 4.5 percent to encourage individuals and institutions to submit original photographs.

According to a white paper also revealed today, the quantity of tokens awarded will depend on the validation process, including the quantity and quality of images submitted by a user.

Whether or not the Totem token can be traded for cash or other cryptocurrencies has not been disclosed as yet. Similarly, its full use case scenarios have not been spelled out, although Baidu did say that the token could ultimately be used across different applications built on top of the XuperChain network.

Baidu first announced the Totem initiative in April – without mentioning the token – describing it as a distributed platform that creates a traceable chain of tamper-proof data to protect photo sharers’ intellectual property.

After platform users upload their original images through the application, the blockchain’s participating nodes, such as invited third party photo stock agents and copyright protection organizations, will validate the originality of the images. If approved, the nodes timestamp the images’ critical information and store it on Baidu’s blockchain, producing verifiable data that could be vital in the event of a copyright dispute later on, the company said.

As a next step, Baidu aims to expand the blockchain rights protection system to include other types of digital media asset such as videos, an addition expected by the first quarter of next year.

Photos image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Blockchain Can Legally Authenticate Evidence, Chinese Judge Rules

A court in China’s Hangzhou city has ruled that evidence authenticated with blockchain technology can be presented in legal disputes.

Based on the official judgement provided by a law firm that represents the plaintiff, the Hangzhou Internet Court decided that the use of blockchain technology in evidence deposition can be legally viable on a case-by-case basis.

The judge commented:

“The court thinks it should maintain an open and neutral stance on using blockchain to analyze individual cases. We can’t exclude it just because it’s a complex technology. Nor can we lower the standard just because it is tamper-proof and traceable. … In this case, the usage of a third-party blockchain platform that is reliable without conflict of interests provides the legal ground for proving the intellectual infringement.”

According to data from the court, the case was filed in January by Huatai Yimei, a Hangzhou-based media company, against a Shenzhen-based technology firm for copyright infringement.

During the legal procedure, the plaintiff showed screen-captured images of web pages and text that it considered unauthorized usage by the Shenzhen company. Previously, Huatai Yimei had encoded the images, website sources codes and other evidence through a third-party site named baoquan.com – a blockchain-based evidence deposition platform – and attempted to use that evidence in the proceedings.

A primary question in the case, according to the judgement, had been whether blockchain can be used as a legal method to determine the authenticity of an item of evidence, similarly to a traditional notarization service.

According to the judgement, Baoquan uses the bitcoin and factom blockchains to hash provided evidence and store it on a distributed network. Even if the disputed media assets should be taken down at a later stage, the court decided that evidence stored on the blockchain can be legally accepted by the court. As such, the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff.

Formally incorporated in August 2017, the Hangzhou Internet Court is one of the first in China that processes cases purely through the web and has a responsibility to rule on disputes over internet-related intellectual property.

According to the court’s website, it has also launched a dedicated e-evidence platform which offers access to both traditional notarization services and authorized third parties, including blockchain-based evidence deposition platforms.

Chinese yuan image via Shutterstock

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Search Giant Baidu Unveils Blockchain Stock Photo Platform

Baidu, China’s internet search giant, has launched a blockchain-based stock photo service in bid to protect image intellectual property in China, as part of its wider push for blockchain technology adoption.

The service, called Totem which went online Wednesday, touts a platform that uses blockchain to timestamp the submission of each original photograph from a user with a real-name identity and store data associated with the images in a distributed network.

With Baidu’s existing capacity in internet data scraping and artificial intelligence, the platform says by comparing images that are circulated over the internet with data stored in a traceable blockchain, it would be able to substantiate allegations of intellectual property infringement.

Currently, according to the new site, the company indicates that several traditional stock photo services have also moved onto the platform with notable ones such as Visual China Group, a partner of the stock photo giant Getty Images in China.

While it remains unclear whether the platform is being built on a public blockchain or a private one, it marks yet another effort by Baidu, considered as a Chinese Google, in pushing for blockchain adoptions.

The new launch also comes just months after the firm introduced its blockchain-as-a-service platform in January this year, following which it has moved in with an exploration of a CryptoKitties knock-off dubbed Laici Go, as reported by CoinDesk.

Yet this isn’t the first time that an established technology firm is eyeing blockchain to solve the intellectual property issue for digital media assets.

It also comes at a time when Kodak, the traditional U.S. technology firm, has made headlines in recent months by claiming to issue its own cryptocurrency over a blockchain that would underpin the unique property rights of photograph ownership.

Baidu image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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EU Agencies to Offer €100K Prize at Blockchain Hackathon

Several European Union agencies will collaborate to facilitate an EU developer event – what they’re calling a “blockathon” – in June in a bid to explore applications of the tech for intellectual property rights enforcement.

The European Commission has partnered with the European Union Intellectual Property Office and its Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights to launch the Brussels-based hackathon, in which competitors will aim to develop a blockchain-based “integrated solution to combat counterfeiting,” the agencies announced on Wednesday.

The successful team will win a €100,000 (about $124,000) prize.

The agencies estimate that around 43 million EU citizens unknowingly purchased counterfeit products in 2017. However, existing preventative systems “are scattered, often working in silos, and criminal networks use this to their advantage,” they explained in the statement.

As a result, EUIPO executive director Antonio Campinos said, the agency is turning to blockchain as a potential tool to help combat this issue.

He explained:

“The EUIPO is determined to explore the potential of blockchain to interconnect systems and ensure security and immutability of data in order to add trust to our legitimate ecosystem for the benefits of citizens, enforcers and companies alike. We believe a strong networked alliance can be built to secure logistics, ensure the authenticity of goods, protect consumers and combat criminal and illegal activities.”

The intellectual property use case for blockchain was established during the early days of the industry, with companies using the bitcoin blockchain to store and track digital certificates of ownership. Since then, a number of startups and projects have sprung up applying the tech to networks that aren’t based on bitcoin.

Last year, for example, a project facilitated by the American Society for Composers started developing a platform to track the ownership of legally protected musical works.

E.U. flags image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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ZhongAn Wants to Block Illegal Content Sharing with Blockchain

ZhongAn Technology, a subsidiary of Chinese online insurer ZhongAn, has filed a patent for a blockchain solution aimed to protect media companies’ intellectual property rights in the face of growing piracy and illicit file sharing.

According to a filing published Tuesday by China’s State Intellectual Property Office, the system seeks to prevent unauthorized distribution of digital media content by providing the ability to identify who shared the content.

The application states:

“The development of internet has made it easy for illegal distribution of digital content such as movies and music even after parties have purchased the license from content creators. When such content gets republished after being copied, it’s hard to find out who has initiated the unauthorized sharing.”

Effectively, when a certain piece of media content is bought, ZhongAn’s blockchain system would link the buyer’s ID with the unique data of the purchased item and process the combined information to produce a unique hash that is stored on a blockchain.

If the same content is later discovered on the internet, the system would upload its data and run it through the same hash function, comparing the result with those stored on the blockchain. When a match is found, it would reveal which buyer had violated the licensing agreement.

Formed in 2016 by ZhongAn, which went public in Hong Kong last year, ZhongAn Technology primarily focuses developing emerging technology solutions for outsourcing to businesses.

The latest patent filing, though still to be approved, signals that the company is keeping its focus on blockchain technology. As reported by CoinDesk, the firm is already applying its blockchain solution to track chicken processing in China using its Ann-chain blockchain platform.

The latest filing also marks yet another effort by an established Chinese technology firm in seeking to patent blockchain solutions for digital rights management, following a similar effort by telecoms and smartphone giant Huawei, as reported last week.

See the full patent below:

ZhongAn patent app by CoinDesk on Scribd

Pirated movies image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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ZhongAn Wants to Identify Media Pirates with Blockchain Tool

ZhongAn Technology, a subsidiary of Chinese online insurer ZhongAn, has filed a patent for a blockchain solution aimed to protect media companies’ intellectual property rights in the face of growing piracy and illicit file sharing.

According to a filing published Tuesday by China’s State Intellectual Property Office, the system seeks to prevent unauthorized distribution of digital media content by providing the ability to identify who shared the content.

The application states:

“The development of internet has made it easy for illegal distribution of digital content such as movies and music even after parties have purchased the license from content creators. When such content gets republished after being copied, it’s hard to find out who has initiated the unauthorized sharing.”

Effectively, when a certain piece of media content is bought, ZhongAn’s blockchain system would link the buyer’s ID with the unique data of the purchased item and process the combined information to produce a unique hash that is stored on a blockchain.

If the same content is later discovered on the internet, the system would upload its data and run it through the same hash function, comparing the result with those stored on the blockchain. When a match is found, it would reveal which buyer had violated the licensing agreement.

Formed in 2016 by ZhongAn, which went public in Hong Kong last year, ZhongAn Technology primarily focuses developing emerging technology solutions for outsourcing to businesses.

The latest patent filing, though still to be approved, signals that the company is keeping its focus on blockchain technology. As reported by CoinDesk, the firm is already applying its blockchain solution to track chicken processing in China using its Ann-chain blockchain platform.

The latest filing also marks yet another effort by an established Chinese technology firm in seeking to patent blockchain solutions for digital rights management, following a similar effort by telecoms and smartphone giant Huawei, as reported last week.

See the full patent below:

ZhongAn patent app by CoinDesk on Scribd

Pirated movies image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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Huawei Seeks Blockchain Patent to Protect Intellectual Property

Chinese telecoms giant and smartphone maker Huawei may be seeking to use blockchain tech to protect digital property rights.

In its latest patent application, released by China’s State Intellectual Property Office on Tuesday, the Shenzhen-based technology firm details an invention that claims to add a verification feature to a peer-to-peer content distribution network powered by blockchain technology.

According to the filing, first submitted in August 2016, the system would store verification information for digital content on a blockchain. When parties initiate download requests over the peer-to-peer network, the system matches their private keys or licenses for accessing the content with the verification information.

Only if a consensus is reached in validating the request will the blockchain allow the download, the patent filing says. Huawei claims that the technology is, in essence, a way to guard intellectual property rights for digital content that is distributed over peer-to-peer networks.

Although it remains to be seen whether the application will be granted by the patent office, the filing marks a further effort by Huawei in moving to develop and adopt blockchain technology.

The company joined the Hyperledger blockchain consortium in October 2016, months after its patent submission. As reported by CoinDesk in January this year, the telecommunications firm is also among the early adopters of Hyperledger’s Sawtooth software, for which the firm is currently developing a decompiler.

See the full patent description below:

Huawei intellectual property patent by CoinDesk on Scribd

Huawei image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Have breaking news or a story tip to send to our journalists? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.

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Huawei Seeks Patent for Blockchain Rights Management

Chinese telecoms giant and smartphone maker Huawei may be seeking to use blockchain tech to protect digital property rights.

In its latest patent application, released by China’s State Intellectual Property Office on Tuesday, the Shenzhen-based technology firm details an invention that claims to add a verification feature to a peer-to-peer content distribution network powered by blockchain technology.

According to the filing, first submitted in August 2016, the system would store verification information for digital content on a blockchain. When parties initiate download requests over the peer-to-peer network, the system matches their private keys or licenses for accessing the content with the verification information.

Only if a consensus is reached in validating the request will the blockchain allow the download, the patent filing says. Huawei claims that the technology is, in essence, a way to guard intellectual property rights for digital content that is distributed over peer-to-peer networks.

Although it remains to be seen whether the application will be granted by the patent office, the filing marks a further effort by Huawei in moving to develop and adopt blockchain technology.

The company joined the Hyperledger blockchain consortium in October 2016, months after its patent submission. As reported by CoinDesk in January this year, the telecommunications firm is also among the early adopters of Hyperledger’s Sawtooth software, for which the firm is currently developing a decompiler.

See the full patent description below:

Huawei intellectual property patent by CoinDesk on Scribd

Huawei image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is an independent media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. Have breaking news or a story tip to send to our journalists? Contact us at news@coindesk.com.

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Coders Beware: Licensing Issues Abound for Ethereum Apps

Matt Savare and John Wintermute work at Lowenstein Sandler LLP, where they practice intellectual property, digital advertising, technology, blockchain and privacy law. Shailley Singh is the senior director for product and R&D at IAB Tech Lab.


Despite the incredible amount of attention blockchain technology has garnered in the last year, very little has been reported on the open-source licensing issues and related risks developers face when using ethereum as a foundation for their own applications.

Many developers may not understand (or willfully ignore) the unique risks when utilizing open-source software. (These risks are not present in bitcoin, because the bitcoin blockchain, unlike the ethereum blockchain, is not a platform upon which developers can easily create decentralized applications using open-source code.) 

The Ethereum Foundation currently utilizes a variety of open-source licenses for ethereum’s different components. To make matters more complicated, the body has indicated that it has not yet selected a final open-source license on which the core of ethereum will be made available in the future.

For this reason, developers of ethereum-based applications should identify, understand and address these risks and limitations.

Utilization of ethereum involves a number of business and legal issues, but perhaps none are more pressing for an ethereum-based app developer than what is usually a straightforward question: what are my rights to use ethereum?

The answer, it turns out, is not so simple.

When ‘free’ isn’t free   

The Ethereum Foundation promises that ethereum “is both open-source software and Free software after the definition of the Free Software Foundation (so-called FLOSS).” In other words, licensees will generally receive broad rights to run, copy, distribute and improve the software.

Beyond this basic premise, however, things get uncertain.

As any seasoned open-source software developer knows, “free” software does not mean “free of restriction,” neither does it necessarily mean “free of cost,” though it often is. Those restrictions, which can disrupt the core of a downstream developer’s business model, are particularly complicated when it comes to ethereum.

Open-source software, which is premised upon the notion that every software licensee should receive a program’s source code and the ability to modify the software for its own purposes, generally falls into one of two broad categories: “permissive” and “restrictive.”

Permissive-type licenses, which include MIT, BSD and Apache, contain minimal restrictions and grant broad rights to licensees to use and modify the covered software and to re-distribute the modifications on the licensee’s own preferred terms.

For commercial developers, permissive licenses are generally considered safer than restrictive licenses, because they do not run the risk of “tainting” any developments or modifications with the open-source terms of the in-licensed software.

The MIT License, for instance, requires only a copyright notice, a disclaimer, and that the disclaimer and notice be passed along to any downstream licensees. A developer is free to take software that is licensed pursuant to the MIT License and to re-license any modifications or derivative works as part of a standard commercial offering.

Infectious licenses

Restrictive-type licenses, or “copyleft” licenses, include the Mozilla Public License, General Public License (GPL), Lesser GPL and Affero GPL.

In contrast to permissive licenses, these licenses restrict a licensee’s ability to distribute modifications and derivative works under commercial or non-open-source terms.

Copyleft licenses are also called “viral licenses,” because they may potentially “infect” a software product with the open-source terms of the underlying copyleft program, leaving a licensee unable to distribute a modified or derivative version for a fee or in non-source form.

Depending on the copyleft license, there may be ways to utilize the open-source software in a way that does not infect the overall product, and the manner of use that will trigger the terms of the viral license is often a complicated and fact-specific question.

Thus, the use of open-source software, while tremendously valuable, carries levels of risk that must be parsed before in-licensing any open-source product.

At the highest level of risk, a developer may jeopardize the entire proprietary value of a project.

Conflicting views

For developers seeking to understand the implications of licensing ethereum for use in their businesses, the Ethereum Foundation complicates this already sensitive issue in two ways: first, by leveraging a variety of open-source licenses for ethereum’s various components; and second, by remaining indecisive as to the future licensing scheme of ethereum, particularly the ethereum core.

According to the licensing section of ethereum’s GitHub page, applications will be distributed under GPL, and the middleware will be made available under a version of the Affero GPL. Both licenses are restrictive in nature, and therefore limit a licensee’s ability to re-license modifications or developments on commercial terms.

They differ, however, in the definition of “distribution” that triggers the viral restrictions in each license. Affero’s wrinkle is that remote interaction via the web is sufficient to trigger a requirement that an Affero licensee make generally available the source code of its own developments and modifications.

In other words, a licensee of an Affero-covered software product might wish to make modifications or improvements to the underlying software and to make that improved product available as software-as-a-service, but in that case, the source code of the entire derivative work must be made available to users interacting with it. Obviously, this requirement is often prohibitive for a developer wishing to retain the product’s proprietary value.

The Ethereum Foundation explains that ethereum “is distributed under several licenses” in part “to reflect the different thinking of the minds behind different pieces of software.”

These conflicting views are also apparent in that the Ethereum Foundation indicates that it has not selected a final license for the core of ethereum, which includes the consensus engine, the networking code and supporting libraries.

Unresolved questions

Although the Ethereum Foundation states that the “core of ethereum will be released under the most liberal of licenses,” it cites the MIT License, Mozilla Public License and LGPL as the three leading candidates – the latter two of which are actually copyleft in nature (albeit generally considered to be “weak copyleft” licenses).

The goal, according to the foundation, is to make the core “available for use in any commercial environment, closed or open source.”

To make matters more complicated, cpp-ethereum, which contains all of ethereum’s core libraries, appears to be currently licensed under the GPL.

Not only does this conflict with the foundation’s indication that the final core licenses are undetermined, but it is not even among the options listed by the foundation for consideration. The GPL is neither a permissive license nor a “weak copyleft” one. Rather, it contains significant restrictions on downstream modification and redistribution.

The current utilization of a strong copyleft license and the apparent uncertainty as to the final licensing scheme pose potentially material risks for developers.

Until the final license is determined, developers of ethereum-based applications are subject to any shifts or divisions in the philosophy behind the licensing of ethereum – a philosophy the Ethereum Foundation freely admits already contains rifts among the various stakeholders.

Tread carefully

None of this is to say that developers should not utilize ethereum or that the Ethereum Foundation is doing anything wrong in its approach.

Rather, commercial developers need to understand the complications of open-source licensing and the unique wrinkles in the context of ethereum.

The downside of underestimating or misjudging the risks is far too great.

Coder’s monument image via Shutterstock

The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk strives to offer an open platform for dialogue and discussion on all things blockchain by encouraging contributed articles. As such, the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of CoinDesk.

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