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Will Big Enterprises Control Blockchain Innovation?

Multi-national tech giant IBM has been making multiple headlines in recent days, getting involved in several large-scale blockchain contracts and patent filings despite recent failings in one of its most lucrative deals in Australia.

The biggest blockchains in the world

IBM and other tech behemoths, 30 big banks and other organizations including JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft and Intel have been coming together in the form of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA).

It is a group formed of Fortune 500 enterprises that are looking to build upon the Ethereum blockchain, the only popular one that supports smart contract technology. It’s presenting somewhat of a contradiction to the technology itself as Ethereum was designed for public use and, therefore, broadcasts transactions to all nodes in the blockchain.

This means that the tech has to undergo rigorous modification for privacy-centric corporations such as IBM. These moves are somewhat contrary to the decentralized blockchain ethos and could provoke responses from purists who are against such industry heavyweights, especially ones who creating privatized or patented blockchain technologies.

IBM patents and contracts

July has been a busy month for IBM. On 5 July, the company filed a new patent application as a means for developers to catalogue coding updates and milestones on a blockchain. ‘Blockchain For Program Code Credit and Programmer Contribution in a Collective’was published by the US Patent and Trade Mark Office (USTPO).

On 8 July, the Australian government signed a deal worth USD 740 million with IBM, securing it as its major tech partner for the next five years, with IBM’s automation and blockchain services being part of it.

9 July sees the tech juggernaut partnering with the US state of Delaware, signing yet another lucrative contract of USD 780,000. The contract has IBM being responsible for creating Delaware’s blockchain-based corporate filing system.

In January, it was reported that IBM and MasterCard were tied second for the companies with the most blockchain patents filed with 27 each, now in June, they have 42 “alive” patents with four being “dead”. In the technology industry, IBM holds twice as many than its nearest competitor, Dell.

Cross-patent collaboration?

Though it’s not just patents that IBM has been filing at a startling pace, the company has been working on projects such as Blockchain Loans in Africa and Humanitarian Aid Challenges.

Manny Schecter, IBM’s chief patent counsel, said in a 19 June Forbes report: “With respect to the foundational elements of specific blockchain technologies that are based on open source software components (e.g., Hyperledger), a cross-licensing patent consortium covering those elements is worthy of some consideration.”

He added, “IBM is a founding member of Open Invention Network (OIN), which is a shared defensive patent pool with the mission to protect Linux. A similar construct to protect the foundational open source components of certain blockchain technologies may make sense.”

While his words may chime with a collaborative attitude between companies, somewhat evoking the distributed ledger ethos, there could be a patent race that leaves much of the innovations we see today from smaller startups stifled and the dream of a decentralized future could find itself in the grips of privatized centralized companies.

 

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