T Skevington and M Bacina
Patent hoarders in Square's sights with Cryptocurrency Open Patent Alliance
Updated: Sep 18, 2020
International payment company Square, co-founded and led by prolific entrepreneur and crypto advocate Jack Dorsey, has launched the Cryptocurrency Open Patent Alliance (COPA) in a bid to limit patent hoarding. Built as a non-profit, COPA purportedly aims to encourage the adoption and advancement of digital asset technology and remove patents as a barrier to growth and innovation, by encouraging the type of collaborative, open-source mentality that blockchain was built on.
COPA aims to address the concern that:
'patent lockup' of foundational cryptocurrency technologies by a select few will stifle innovation and deter mass-adoption.
We can only presume that VISA will not be applying for membership any time soon, after a patent application of theirs was published in May 2020 for a "digital fiat currency".
COPA aims to achieve its lofty goals in two key ways, namely:
First, COPA members pledge never to use their crypto patents against anyone, except for defensive reasons, effectively making these patents freely available for all to use.
Second, COPA creates a shared patent library where members pool all of their crypto patents together to form a collective shield of patents, allowing members to use each others’ patents to deter and defend against patent aggressors. This helps democratize patents for everyone, empowering even small companies with tools and leverage to defend themselves.
These aims are enshrined in the COPA Membership Agreement, which enshrines the two requirements above in a "legally binding, irrevocable and enforceable" agreement under the laws of the State of California. Membership is open to anyone, with annual membership fees yet to be set.
According to COPA's website, although Square is in control of COPA and establishing the organisation for its first year, COPA will be governed by a board made up of nine members drawn from various parts of the community. Three board members will come from from the crypto and open source community, three from the founding companies, and the remaining three from the remaining membership of COPA.
With a 2018 Australian Computer Society and IP Australia Report finding that "Blockchain patent filings have grown 140% or more each year since 2013", concerns for stifling innovation may be well-founded. Of course, everyone's for sharing until they personally have invented something valuable they want to sell. A pessimist could be forgiven for thinking that the COPA pledge will end up being argued in court in the years to come.