The Intersection of Cryptocurrency and Intellectual Property Law


This marks the last article in a series of blog posts regarding cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. While cryptocurrency still seems like a relatively new term to the average citizen, cryptocurrency and blockchain technology have been around for about a decade.  Its recent surge in popularity, however, has raised new questions about ownership, legal protection, and intellectual property law’s role in its burgeoning growth.  This article discusses relationships between cryptocurrency and intellectual property law.

Blockchain Technology/Cryptocurrency and Intellectual Property Law

As cryptocurrency and blockchain technology become more of a common household word, many experts in the field have openly wondered whether the technology’s explosive growth will be eventually hindered or dampened by attempts to copyright, patent, or trademark specific cryptocurrency or the blockchain technologies associated with them.  It is only natural that founders of the startups that utilize cryptocurrency or specific blockchain technologies may seek legal protection if they find a particular method, process, or even code uniquely integral to their business.  As such, copyright, patent, and trademark law can all be used to provide some sort of legal protection in connection with cryptocurrency use as well as blockchain technologies.

Many experts in the blockchain technology field, however, actively lobby against such protection.  As most intellectual property attorneys know, there has always been considerable tension between innovation and the role of legal protection provided by intellectual property law.  While both detractors and supporters of intellectual property law can see how intellectual property law may either incentivize or chill innovation, depending on where you stand, it is important to understand that modern intellectual property law has yet to truly be utilized in the blockchain technology field.

No Patent Protection for Bitcoin

The most famous cryptocurrency and example of blockchain technology, Bitcoin, is not patented.  It is precisely this lack of intellectual property protection, experts argue, that allows for Bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies to improve, grow, and innovate in terms of speed, block time, and use.  As one of the first cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin was released in 2009 and currently has a block time of approximately ten minutes.  Without patent protection, coders have been allowed to copy Bitcoin’s code, improve on it, and since then, newer cryptocurrencies that have spawned can now boast turnaround times in the seconds.

Does Cryptocurrency Need IP Protection?  Isn't Blockchain Technology Self-Policing?

Moreover, critics of intellectual property law protection for blockchain technology argue that blockchain technology and cryptocurrency already have their own self-policing mechanisms.  By this, they mean that if users become dissatisfied with a cryptocurrency, they can simply code a completely new one by copying existing blockchain data and changing them enough to create competing ones.  As such, many argue that blockchain technology must thus remain open-source to flourish.

Future of Intellectual Property and Cryptocurrency/Blockchain Technology

Only time will tell whether or not traditional intellectual property protection such as patents, copyrights, and trademarks will become heavily utilized in the cryptocurrency and blockchain technology world.  Most likely, as blockchain technology continues to gain acceptance and use outside of the financial sector, there will be more traditional attempts to use intellectual property law to apply some sort of ownership on specific processes, brands, companies, or uses of cryptocurrency and its associated blockchain technology.

More from this series: The Rise of Cryptocurrency Blockchain Technology and How it Relates to Virtual Currencies The Perils of Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Technology

For more information on this topic, please visit our Internet & eCommerce service page, which is part of our Internet & eCommerce Practice.

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