Shenzhen, Guangdong, China-based networking and telecommunications giant Huawei has applied for a patent, to use blockchain for the purpose of protecting intellectual property rights. Filed in August 2016, and currently being evaluated by China’s State Intellectual Property Office, the patent application intends to add a verification feature when content is distributed peer-to-peer.
With the pervasive reach of the Internet, digital content is the new king. If you have a theory on a particular subject that you have formulated after experiments, or if you have a solution to a particular socioeconomic problem that you have tested in a controlled environment, or if you are just a talented photographer, you have likely experienced the power of the Internet, which can take your content to all corners of the world quickly. On the other hand, you may have also noticed with dismay that your content has been downloaded and used by others, without you earning anything from it, and without any acknowledgement of your hard work and talent. Unauthorized download of content often violate national copyright laws, but so far we only have recommendations about what the content creator should do to prevent this, for e.g. identifying her content with copyright notice, explaining upfront to users via a notice what they can and can’t do with that content, etc. While those are good practices, they will simply not prevent anyone from downloading your content in unauthorized manner. You as the creator of the intellectual property can at best hope that people browsing the Internet will read your notices, and be fair to you. Hope isn’t a strategy. A technology solution to prevent unauthorized download of intellectual property is needed. It should have a verification mechanism before download, and the said mechanism should always work, and no one should be able to tamper it.
Huawei intends to fill this gap with blockchain. Blockchain is a technology that encourages decentralization by design, and ensures immutable and permanent record-keeping. It’s a distributed database, where computers on the network, also called ‘nodes’, maintain a shared version of truth, collectively, without any central server managing the show. All nodes have the latest and complete information present on the blockchain, and one can’t destroy blockchain by destroying any central server. Block records, also called ‘blocks’, are linked via a predetermined protocol, and every node has equal authority to update blockchain, and no update needs to be routed through any central authority. Having said that, no existing record can be deleted or modified, so updating blockchain is essentially creating a new block. Since every node can create a new block, maintaining the sequence of transaction is vital for data integrity, and blockchain does it with the consensus mechanism. Depending on the type of blockchain, different types of consensus mechanism may be used. For e.g. public blockchains, such as the one underpinning Bitcoin, use proof of work (POW) algorithm, where a majority of participating nodes must validate a transaction before it gets recorded on blockchain. In some other case, proof of stake (PoS) algorithm may be used, where the majority of nodes that have staked their crypto tokens for transaction validation purpose must approve the transaction. Either way, creating a new block requires solving a cryptographic puzzle very fast, and this needs significant computing power. The consensus algorithm and the massive computing power requirements make any effort to hack a blockchain economically non-viable. Relationship between stakeholders are governed by smart contracts in blockchain. Smart contracts are pieces of code enabling legally recognized action, such as a stakeholder taking control of an entity. With the above technology components, blockchain effectively offers a decentralized platform to store records immutably permanently with complete audit trail, and the information is mathematically proven, eliminating need to trust one person or organization explicitly. While, outside of cryptocurrencies, it was the Financial Technology (FinTech) companies that first noticed the promise of blockchain, we now see increasing number of companies across the board exploring blockchain, for it promises simplification and cost-reduction.
Huawei‘s patent application outlines their blockchain-based solution as following:
- A new verification step will be introduced before downloading digital content;
- The system will store verification information for digital content on a blockchain;
- If someone initiates a download request over a peer-to-peer network, the blockchain-powered system will match their private key or licensing information against the verification information;
- Only after the consensus mechanism approves the request after finding a match, the download can proceed.
While this particular patent application is yet to be approved, Huawei‘s steady move with regards to blockchain is unmistakable. Huawei joined the Linux foundation-led Hyperledger blockchain consortium in October 2016, and they are developing a decompiler for the Sawtooth software of Hyperledger. Huawei isn’t the only company venturing into a use case like this with blockchain. As reported earlier, the American technology company Kodak is also venturing into the blockchain space, to ensure that the digital photographers get paid when someone downloads their content over the Internet.