We’ve seen a recent surge in blockchain related patents from large companies like IBM etc. Blockstack PBC focuses on core protocols and open-source software. We don’t want to be in a position where some other (large) company files a patent similar to the work PBC and the community is doing and then down the road such patents held by other companies become potentially problematic for the Blockstack community. For such “defensive” reasons, Blockstack PBC might file patents for work done by PBC engineers. Given the discussion around an independent Stacks Foundation, we can explore if it makes sense to transfer any patents to the foundation over the coming years. There are also “open source patents” like what Tesla did, and frameworks like the defensive patent license etc.
I’d love to hear more from the community about this.
This is a tough topic. My initial reaction was to say no to patents alongside the stances from the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) - but I changed my mind by the end of this research. Defensive patents may make sense.
When reading more in-depth, there are a lot of varying opinions and things to consider. In case others decide to go Googling on this issue, below are some of the resources I found on this topic and hopefully it will help others as we think about this together!
Free Software Foundation (FSF):
- The FSF has a campaign to end software patents, but the content is years old and more focused on what the bad guys do versus defensive strategies (although they do list some, see next item).
- The End Software Patents wiki lists defensive patent acquisition and defensive patent pools under insufficient and failing remedies, but reading further into this, the arguments are more against the entire patent process than a company taking a defensive stance.
Defensive Patent Acquisition: cites quotes from 1999 and 2006 the campaign warns that defensive patents can lead to added expenses and possibly an “arms race” between companies based on their respective patent portfolios
Defensive Patent Pools: a clear distinction is made between defensive patent pools and what the campaign calls “patent cartels”, however it does not the idea of a defensive patent pool as an undesirable solution. The wiki also links to Open Innovation Network as the best-known pool.
- The most recent article from the End Software Patents campaign is from Jarek Duda on software patents (2018), who introduced Asymmetric Numeral Systems (ANS) and purposely did not file a patent although the technology is used by Google, Apple, and Facebook. The end result was Google trying to monopolize the use of image/video compression via ANS, although the patent did eventually get rejected and was later abandoned.
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF):
The patent system is broken.
- The EFF takes a similar stance to the FSF above, but again, this is aimed at abolishing the patent system altogether.
- The EFF released a PDF titled Defend Innovation: How to Fix Our Broken Patent System in Feb 2015, a whitepaper providing a comprehensive view of the issues plaguing the patent system today, as well as a series of solutions that Congress, the Patent Office, the courts, and companies can implement.
- The EFF created a 2016 edition of Hacking the Patent System, which covers some of the newer defensive methods as described in @muneeb’s post as well as some examples of defensive patent licenses and their pros/cons:
While the patent system is definitely in need of reform, after reading above, I am leaning more toward filing the defensive patents.
If Blockstack were to apply for patents based on the work done by PBC engineers then I would highly encourage the company to adopt an individual pledge or defensive license to ensure the community can still embrace innovation. In addition, I think it is important to address what happens if the patent is sold or transferred.
I also feel that the Stacks Foundation will be an excellent steward for the software, core technology, licensing, and other items meant to eventually be under community control. While things are still in the very early stages, I think this will be the logical place for things to move in the future.
@dant - any thoughts here?
Yep, the patent system is badly in need of reform. And defensive patents become a strategy to protect against future patent trolls etc.
This is an important topic and that’s the reason why I mentioned potential transfer of patents to a non-profit and independent Stacks foundation.
Beyond necessary protection, them patents are real value, and as collateral, it could even secure founding of public entities, to put it to meaningful use.
#node_public … forget hashtag, introducing ‘stacktag’ node_public
Definitely, it sounds like we are in agreement and I am curious how others feel on this topic, too.
I updated my post to be a little clearer on my stance in the first paragraph, as re-reading it later it felt a bit misleading. My initial reaction was no - but in the end I am in agreement, this could be a way for Blockstack to preserve the ecosystem if handled the right way.
I am in agreement here as well. I think this ties into some of the questions we have in the governance working group about the foundation, what it will eventually control, and how the community can be involved. While all of this is still in the early stages, it is exciting to see Blockstack PBC considering the transfer to a public entity for the long-term support of the community and ecosystem.
First it should be noted that on the question of patents and Blockstack, “the horse has already left the barn”, so to say:
The important question is: now that Blockstack PBC has the patent, what do they do with it?
I would advocate:
Immediately adopt a pledge similar if not identical to that adopted by Blockstream: https://www.blockstream.com/about/patent_pledge/
At soonest possibility, transfer ownership of the patent to a nonprofit defensive patent pool (Stacks Foundation or similar qualified community-governed nonprofit entity) so that additional assurances may be gained that the patents will not be used to extract rents from the community.
Dedicate some network revenues to the nonprofit defensive patent pool entity to fund its administrative costs, as well as to hire lobbyists to lobby for the abolition of patent law worldwide.
 Patent law is a perversion of property rights and deserves to be abolished, and if we are to protect the network from patents long term then abolition is the only reliable strategy. The purpose of property rights is to create a fair system for allocating scarce resources, for example a smartphone, a car, a patch of land, etc. Patents pervert this notion of property rights by granting owners the exclusive use of a non-scarce resource: a design or a process that could otherwise be replicated by others at no cost to the original inventor, for example “a design for phones with rounded edges”, or “a platform and associated method for authenticating the identity of a user in a decentralized system without need for a third-party identity service”. Through this government-backed exclusive use monopoly, patents prevent other people from using their own property as they see fit. For example, if Bob has a patent on “a design for phones with rounded edges” then he can prevent Alice from using her own factory to create phones with rounded edges. This perversion of property rights has completely distorted global markets and contributed to the massive wealth inequality we see in the world today as wealth concentrates around successful monopoly patent ownership.
This is a good resource!
Yep, already exploring that option as mentioned in the original post
It also makes me think and wonder… given companies’ desire to hold defendable advantages, what happens if in the future if Blockstack PBC is offered a merger/acquisition too good to refuse - for said patents and/or the code and PBC employees/braintrust? What happens to the open source, community project and blockchain? Granted, I understand this is one of the goals/benefits to decentralizing the Stacks blockchain and development. And if such a thing happened, assuming it’s possible, what would be the ramifications to STX holders/investors? This latter question is a bit off topic - maybe address at next AMA?
Telegram post before I saw this thread >> https://t.me/BlockstackChat/115960
Left this note on Telegram but leaving it here as well:
Muneeb, [Apr 3, 2020 at 1:00:48 PM]:
The main issue here is that the Blockstack ecosystem should not be in a situation where a large company say IBM just as an example, patents a technology similar to PoX, stacking, storage, whatever and then makes life difficult for the Blockstack ecosystem. Inventing something has little protection these days given the switch of patents from “first to invent” to “first to file”. Only large companies with unlimited budgets for patents win in this world of “first to file”.
Our general strategy, as mentioned on my forum post about patents, is to use some of PBC resources to help “future proof” the Blockstack ecosystem from patent trolls – at least for some of the more critical inventions. We also don’t have unlimited capital to spend on this
RE any merger/acquisition, first of all Blockstack PBC has no such plans for the foreseeable future, but the general model here is that for the Blockstack ecosystem to be successful, we need to reach a state where this is a non-issue. Meaning the ecosystem is not dependent on Blockstack PBC the company but the ecosystem is a decentralized, self-sufficient, open-source ecosystem. The code is open-source, independent miners operate the Stacks 2.0 blockchain, there are other independent entities (like Foundation and potentially others) in place, open-source contributors help maintain software (not just PBC engineers), there are independent app developers, and so on. We’re actively making progress towards such increased decentralization and plan to post more updates in Q2.
There are examples of this e.g., Bitcoin and Ethereum, these can continue to function regardless of any single company (even large players like Coinbase or Consensys are not necessary for operations of Bitcoin or Ethereum).
Definitely great topics of discussion for a townhall or AMA!
An update here that Blockstack PBC published a patent pledge:
Thanks @light, @whoabuddy, @topper.id.blockstack, and @fluidvoice for the comments here!