Patents Explained: How nChain and IPwe are supporting blockchain innovation

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This year nChain joined the IPwe Blockchain Smart Pool to offer access to our research and encourage global adoption of blockchain technology. 

Patents are a key part of nChain’s mission: we’re ranked 7th globally when it comes to active blockchain patents, and it’s also the reason LexisNexis voted us one of the world’s Top 100 most innovative companies.  

In this article, Dr Owen Vaughan, nChain Director of Research, gives an insight into what we’ve patented, why we joined the Smart Pool and how start-ups and businesses can benefit from it. 

What’s a patent and what’s a patent pool?  

A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides a new way of doing something, or a new technical solution to a problem. These patents (or patent applications) can be grouped into a patent family that is related to the same invention.  

Patent pools are where several companies—called ‘founders’—combine their patents into a single portfolio; a platform designed to benefit people inventing or implementing something that uses the patent. For the IPwe pool we’ve contributed patents on areas including cybersecurity, automated contracts, wallets, IoT devices, tokenisation, and peer-to-peer communication. I’m a co-inventor of 13 patent families in the IPwe pool. They cover privacy protocols, certificate management, network topology and more.  

Since joining the IPwe pool as its first founder, we’ve included an initial collection of 169 patent families, which comprise a total of 1,280 individual patent applications. So far, 50 of those patent families have applications that have been granted. We expect the remaining applications to be granted over the next couple of years. 

Who can benefit from it?  

The patent pool is open. Any company can become a ‘member’ simply by signing up; you don’t need to contribute patents to do this. 

The goal is to encourage start-ups and businesses to create solutions and advance the technology using an extensive selection of our blockchain patents. If your company makes less than $1M in revenue per year it’s completely free to join the Blockchain Smart Pool. For businesses between $1M – $10M in annual revenue, membership costs are just $500 per year. 

Most of our patents relate directly to blockchain, but they also include supporting technologies such as IOT. We’d love to see smaller companies using our patents in the pool to inspire their own products or inventions. Larger companies meanwhile will likely become members in order to de-risk their product lines from patent infringement. 

In the case of start-ups, it’s often useful to seek a license for a patent application before it’s granted to avoid any roadblocks to product development. In the long-term such licenses can often be cheaper and run over several years. 

Why do we see value in the IPwe patent pool?  

So this pool is the first of its kind for blockchain, which is why it’s really exciting to be a part of it! We feel that by sharing knowledge, and encouraging new products/software to be built, the IPwe Smart Pool can help position blockchain as an integral part of the global technology infrastructure.  

From nChain’s perspective we can help accelerate this positive vision and at the same time, the pool generates a sustainable revenue stream that will fund our research programme going forward, to create even more blockchain solutions. A kind of circular economy. 

What can we expect next from nChain in the coming months? 

We’ll continue pushing our research in new areas and adding new patents and inventions to our portfolio. Hopefully, some of these will find a place in the Blockchain Smart Pool.  

We are also exploring other options to make our foundational patents available and accessible to those that want to build businesses. One tool is a Knowledge Base or a repository of the patents we have available for licensing. The internal version is expected this year then we’ll see how to make this available externally. 

Until then, we will be using blogs and articles to explain select patents and inventions. 

Lastly, related trends like the Metaverse provide interesting openings for us as well. We are considering options to engage a wider audience by focusing on adjacent technology where those communities will benefit from what we’ve built so far. 

For more information you can visit the IPwe Blockchain Smart Pool website here and sign up in less than two minutes.  

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