The bitcoin block chain is well known for its use as a ledger for digital currency transactions, but it has the potential for other, more radical uses too – uses that are only now beginning to be explored.
The online service Proof of Existence is an example of how the power of this new technology can have applications far beyond the world of finance, in this case, giving a glimpse of how bitcoin could one day have a substantial impact in the fields of intellectual property and law.
Although in its initial stages, Proof of Existence can be used to demonstrate document ownership without revealing the information it contains, and to provide proof that a document was authored at a particular time.
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Proof of Existence allows users to upload a file and pay a transaction fee to have a cryptographic proof of it included on the bitcoin block chain. The actual file is not stored online and therefore does not risk unwanted publication of the user’s material.
After anonymously uploading the document and paying the network fee, a hash of the document (or any other type of digital file) is generated as part of the transaction.
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This, in effect, uses the public and ledger-like nature of the block chain to store the proof of your file, which can later be verified should an issue of authorship or dating arise.
“Basically, by inserting the cryptographic hash of the document in a transaction, when that transaction is mined into a block, the block timestamp becomes the document’s timestamp,” said Aráoz.
As well as time-stamping, Proof of Existence is also a way to make sure that files are what they are supposed to be.
As Proof of Existence says: “All we store is a cryptographic digest of the file, linked to the time in which you submitted the document. In this way, you can later certify that the data existed at that time.”
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Given this potential, it’s possible that the implications of solutions like Proof of Existence might be even more valuable than the per-bitcoin price many investors are fixated upon today.
Digital property can sometimes also be considered intellectual property, and block chain technologies could essentially prove ownership of such digital property, according to Aráoz, who explained:
“For example, if you are writing a paper or you have an idea for a patent, in some cases you need to prove that you owned the idea or the paper before someone else.”
Link to the rest at CoinDesk and thanks to L for the tip.
PG always likes cool new digital ways of doing old tasks, but he has to point out a couple of things:
1. For copyright purposes, there is seldom a problem with two people coming up with the same copyrightable work at the same time.
Remember, you don’t copyright ideas, you copyright the unique expression of ideas. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl (or the reverse or Tramp meets Lady or amoeba meets amoeba) is not copyrightable because it’s just an idea. There are a zillion different copyrighted books, short stories, poems, movies and TV shows based upon the identical idea or variations thereof.
You’ll want to register your book with the US copyright office under any circumstances, so you may as well use them to certify when you wrote the book because they’re the gold standard.
2. For patent purposes, the US formerly had a first-to-invent standard where the first person to invent a patentable item was entitled to obtain the patent. This lead to some epic fights when inventors were independently working in the same field at the same time. Litigation about who first invented the laser, for example, relied on hand-dated notebooks describing elements of the invention.
While first-to-invent made for better stories, in 2013, the US joined most of the remainder of the world in awarding patents to the first inventor to file an application describing the invention, not the first to invent.
3. Finally, although PG loves this use of the BitCoin algorithm, if you search for digital notary on Google, you’ll find lots of other ways of obtaining a reliable and tamperproof or tamper-resistant date stamps on a document like a manuscript.