Evans explores IP rules & regs in cryptocurrency + blockchain law at Yahoo Finance Summit [livestream]


Today Professor Evans explores the role of intellectual property (IP) in the blockchain space, given the reality that the value of IP is generally derived from exclusive, proprietary rights. However, so much of the blockchain ecosystem’s infrastructure is open-source (and necessarily so) due to the need for, and benefits of, collaboration and interoperability. In fact, some fantastic projects, like Linux’s HyperLedger Project, were initiated to promote and support an open-source environment to spur blockchain innovation.

Contrary to the open-source community norms, some decentralized app (dApp) developers building on top of blockchains like Ethereum via “smart contract” code (think, “if, then” self-executing agreement) and infrastructure projects like those created by the Ripple and Mobius teams may, instead, seek a completely or at least substantially proprietary advantage by securing, for example, patent protection.

But is robust IP protection contrary to the originalist principles of the O.B. “original blockchain”, aka the Bitcoin Blockchain? Do strong IP protections, which may increase the overall value of a company’s worth, slow down or speed up innovation in an industry that moves at a meteoric pace? Do innovative steps outpace the US examination and registration processes for copyright (3 to 11 months),  trademark (6 months to one year or longer), and patent (1 to 3 years)?

The bottom line is that navigating OSS licenses is challenging and, of course, implicates important legal and economic issues, especially related to patent (inventions) and copyright (creativity) because software is protectable by both IP regimes.

One industry response to ownership and bad actor regulation for patents (which could also be applied to copyright) is the work of the Chamber of Digital Commerce’s Blockchain Intellectual Property Council. IPWatchdog.com explains:

Aside from establishing a repository of blockchain-specific patent information, BIPC will be exploring various IP protection models that have worked in other sectors, such as: Non-aggression agreements – where industry players agree not to assert patents against each other; developing patent pools – where cross-licensing options are available to all pool participants; reducing inventory – where groups form (like the LOT Network) and the members agree not to sell patents without first granting a license to all group members.

Trademark registration is also an important tool to distinguish brand identity and raise consumer awareness. A trademark’s value can increase over time as the business reputation increases. Issues of consumer confusion, however, can cause harm. The Bitcoin (BTC) vs. Bitcoin Cash (BTH) confusion has left many an unwary person confused about the source of crypto. The consequences of transferring BTC to a BTH wallet means that Bitcoin is forever lost. So trademarks play a key role in avoiding consumer confusion, the primary test of trademark infringement. But with no central person or entity asserting ownership rights in this decentralized ecosystem, who is positioned to protect consumers?

Further, several crypto news outlets reported recently that a UK-based company registered BITCOIN as a trademark (for clothing, alcoholic & nonalcoholic drinks) & began issuing cease and desist letter to people like an Etsy store owner selling Bitcoin t-shirts. I covered this topic in a Twitter thread. If you’re wondering if this is illegal, the short answer is no. But that doesn’t mean industry leaders haven’t attempted to discourage this practice.

The BTC Foundation provided an important statement about the propriety of registering BITCOIN as a stand-alone trademark and provided stats as of January 2015 on the number registered marks around the world. For those, it is too late to oppose. It seems the US Patent & Trademark Office, however, is requiring registrants to disclaim the use of “BITCOIN” separately from, say, a mark like MILLY BITCOIN.

As you can see there are a lot of really important and interesting IP issues to consider with blockchain technology. Let’s talk about it.


About #YahooAMS

Yahoo Finance presents All Markets Summit: Crypto — the latest in our series of All Markets Summit events produced by Yahoo Finance. This all-day livestream event will take place on June 14, 2018 in San Francisco at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center. Yahoo AMS: Crypto examines the global investment appetite for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and endeavors to answer some of the biggest questions surrounding these assets.

  • Should individual investors have crypto in their portfolio?
  • Is it a legitimate investment?
  • Will regulators impose stricter federal oversight?

This is Yahoo Finance’s second live cryptocurrency summit this year. Yahoo AMS: Crypto brings together influential entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, policy makers, and legal experts. Limited live studio audience seating available.

Yahoo AMS is presented in conjunction with CoinDesk.


Hot off the presses, this week’s #CryptoSmartEsq News-Issue 5 (4/29/2018)

By Professor Tonya M. Evans

Welcome to this week’s CryptoSmartEsq News, my carefully curated list of current legal issues and events in blockchain and crypto. 

If you’re new to this exciting, fast-developing space, check out the introductory video in the first CryptoSmartEsq news post. Follow me on Twitter at @CryptoSmartEsq (my blockchain and crypto-focused feed) and @IPProfEvans (my intellectual property-focused feed) and #EvansontheBlock for daily legal bits & bytes. Affiliate links noted with $.

Tweet me your news items.

Top Story

Accord Project to Define Standard for Smart Legal Contract Language (prnewswire.com)

Accord Project today [4/27/2018] published the first working draft and prototype for Ergo, a domain specific language for smart legal contracts. Designed to capture the operational details of legal contracts, Ergo supports contracts and clauses as first-class elements of the language, allowing lawyers and developers to quickly, easily and safely develop and verify the operation of computable legal contracts.

Tonya M. Evans, Franklin Pierce Center for IP Professor, is a member of The Accord Project’s Intellectual Property Working Group, led by Michael J. Riesen, Esq.

Intellectual Property

IBM Files Patent For Proof-Of-Work Protocol Tailored To IoT Networks (CoinTelegraph.com)

Tech giant IBM has filed a patent for an Internet of Things (IOT)-focused Blockchain configuration which would tailor the proof-of-work (PoW) protocol in order to address potential security issues in IoT networks, in an application published April 26. More …

Sony Files Patent for Digital Rights Storage on a Blockchain (CCN.com)

Japan’s Sony has filed an application for a patent to store users’ digital rights data on the blockchain, and it stands to disrupt another industry.

The patent application, which was published by the US Patent & Trademark Office on April 26, has made its way to the top of the queue. It’s dubbed Blockchain-Based Digital Rights Management (DRM) and it was filed by both Tokyo-based Sony Corp and Culver City, Calif-based Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Amazon wins patent for data feed marketplace that could include bitcoin transactions (CNBC.com)

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday [4/17/2018] approved the Amazon.com subsidiary’s September 2014 filing for a patent that can correlate different data streams and sell the combined feed as a subscription to people who want to track that data. The filing referenced bitcoin transactions twice as examples of possible products. More …

Law & Government

REALLY Smart (and Legal!) Contracts (medium.com)

In this article, Clause CTO Dan Selman introduces smart legal contracts as well as the Open Source Accord Project.

Women in Blockchain and the Future of Smart Contracts (Law.com)

The gender gap in blockchain may be more abysmal than it is in law, but I’ll tell you this: If Blockchain@Berkeley’s she(256) conference is any indication, it isn’t because there’s a pipeline problem. The day-long event on the UC Berkeley campus featured women who are true experts in the field and was attended by lots of young women – and not a few men – eager to hear what they had to say. It also yielded insights into the future shape of “smart contracts,” and how the blockchain community is feeling about recent regulatory pressure. (For those unfamiliar, “she(256)” is a play on “sha(256),” the 256-bit Secure Hash Algorithm used in Bitcoin mining). More …

A Former Top Wall Street Regulator Turns to the Blockchain (NYTimes.com)

Gary Gensler was one of the top financial regulators in the Obama administration, the finance chief for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and, before both of those jobs, a partner at Goldman Sachs. Now, like many other big names from business and government, he is plunging into the world of the blockchain, the data-tracking technology introduced by Bitcoin. More …

Predicting the Emergence of Common Law Through Blockchain (Nasdaq.com)

A majority of the world’s economic activity now operates completely online. The Internet has surpassed regular jurisdictional avenues of governance and commerce channels. What’s more, the markets that were once regulated by bureaucratic, old-world systems are becoming increasingly more complex.

All of this digital activity is driving the need for new common law solutions. The infrastructure that exists today is not prepared to efficiently handle the billions of transactions and international trades that the new age of commerce has ushered in. Thankfully, there is a way for the world to create an efficient mode of control – and that’s with blockchain technology. More …


In First Post ‘Cyan’ Decision, Court Splits Blockchain Lawsuit Into Two (Law.com)


How Blockchain is Making it Easier to Get Educated Online (LiveBitcoinNews.com)

Nowadays, there are plenty of platforms where users can take a course and learn new skills from the comfort of their own home. It’s a big leap forward, but it still has downsides. These platforms can be expensive, and the creators of the educational content that we love are often underpaid and undervalued. It’s time to change things up, and build a new way of sharing educational content that benefits both publishers and consumers. Of all the ways to do this, blockchain technology is turning out to be one of the most promising. More …


Women on the Block
Kicks off Blockchain Week NYC and features women thought leaders in the blockchain community.
May 13 || 10:30 AM – 7PM || Brooklyn, NY
learn more + register

Women4Blockchain Hackathon + Conference

June 1 – 4, 2018 New York University School of Law
learn more + register 

List of 2018 Events (CoinDesk.com)

Working Groups, Committees, & Orgs

Signup for Coinbase to receive $10 in $BTC after you buy or sell $100 worth of $BTC

[previous issue of CryptoSmartEsq News]

Hot off the presses, this week’s #CryptoSmartEsq News-Issue 4 (4/22/2018)

By Professor Tonya M. Evans

Welcome to this week’s CryptoSmartEsq News, my carefully curated list of current legal issues and events in blockchain and crypto. 

If you’re new to this exciting, fast-developing space, check out the introductory video in the first CryptoSmartEsq news post. Follow me on Twitter at @CryptoSmartEsq (my blockchain and crypto-focused feed) and @IPProfEvans (my intellectual property-focused feed) and #EvansontheBlock for daily legal bits & bytes. Affiliate links noted with $.

Tweet me your news items.

Top Story

New York Attorney General sends inquiry to 13 major cryptocurrency exchanges requesting disclosure on their operations, use of bots, conflicts of interest, outages, and more. The list of exchanges includes some of the most popular and notable: Coinbase [$], Gemini [$],  bitFlyer, Bitfinex, Bitstamp [$], Payward, Kraken, Bittrex, Poloniex, Binance and itBit. At least one exchange pushes back, says no.

Intellectual Property Continue reading “Hot off the presses, this week’s #CryptoSmartEsq News-Issue 4 (4/22/2018)”