Blockchain is undoubtedly one of the most exciting technologies to emerge in the last few years.
When blockchain technology was first introduced to the world in 2009 by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, few could have imagined just how important this technology could potentially be to society.
Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin cryptocurrency paved the way for peer-to-peer electronic cash payments and spawned hundreds of other cryptocurrencies (2,078 at the time of writing according to coinmarketcap).
Many of these cryptocurrencies are the creation of coding geniuses like Ethereum founder, Vitalik Buterin, who immediately recognised the importance of blockchain technology and its potential applications. But blockchain isn’t just the domain of a couple of kids in their garage basement.
Some of the world’s biggest companies and financial institutions have taken note and are taking blockchain technology very seriously. Afterall, it has the potential to seriously disrupt many of these companies’ existing businesses. Imagine a world in which your smartphone is your bank and your house is purchased via a ‘smart-contract’ with no middleman. Just check out The Motley Fool’s article listing 20 uses of blockchain technology and you’ll see how varied the applications of this technology can be.
Clearly, goliaths such as Mastercard and Alibaba don’t want to be left behind!
Blockchain technology is so important that many are predicting it could become the next major patent war battleground. Accordingly, the race to patent the blockchain has already begun. So who are the top filers purely in terms of raw numbers?
Top 10 Blockchain Patent Filers
Our research revealed that nChain Holdings Ltd is the current chip leader with a total of 150 blockchain related patents or patent applications.
Here’s our top 10 in all its glory:
|Share of Top 10
|NCHAIN HOLDINGS LTD
|ALIBABA GROUP HOLDING LTD
|BANK OF AMERICA
|WALMART APOLLO LLC
nChain Holdings Ltd sits out in front with an impressive haul of 150 patent filings. This is thanks, in no small part, to the efforts of prodiguous inventor, Craig Steven Wright, who many will recall shot to fame with his claim to be the mysterious Bitcoin creator, Satoshi Nakamoto.
The top 10 is clearly dominated by the US whose companies occupy six of the top 10 spots and which, together, have filed a combined 48% of all patents and patent applications in the top 10.
South Korea is well represented by Coinplug, Inc. which sits in 3rd place on 118 filings.
China is also clearly active in the blockchain space with two entries in the top 10 (and a significant number in the top 50), the most active of which is Alibaba with a total of 104 filings and a 13% share.
And here’s our top 50 if you’re really keen!
Of course, it’s worth bearing in mind that these are only very rough figures based on a relatively broad-brush searching approach.
Our search results will include any patent or patent application that mentions “blockchain” even if it’s not purely concerned with blockchain technology. For example, a patent could simply mention that a database could be maintained on a blockchain and find its way into our results.
Furthermore, there could be other relevant blockchain patents that simply don’t mention the term blockchain, instead preferring terms such as “distributed ledger”. Such patents or patent applications will not be included in our results.
We also have to consider there is generally an 18 month lag between filing and publication of a patent application. Therefore, there could be some more recent, highly active patent filers in the blockchain space who’s activities will not become clear for at least a few more months. The blockchain patent landscape is therefore ever evolving and changing.
The above should emphasise that no patent search is ever 100% accurate and will not, therefore, return precise filing figures.
Top 10 Blockchain Patent Inventors
Whilst reviewing the filing data, we thought it might be interesting to see who are the top 10 inventors of blockchain inventions. So, here they are:
|HONG JAY WU
|UHR JOON SUN
|SONG JOO HAN
In this case, we’ve limited our search to patent families as opposed to individual patent filings. Otherwise, multiple patent applications for the same invention in different jurisdictions would significantly skew the results.
As you can see, the top inventors in the blockchain space are from Asia, with Coinplug’s Korean inventors, Hong Jay Wu and Uhr Joon Sun, sharing the top spot with an incredible 82 different blockchain inventions (probably each as co-inventors of a good proportion of the same inventions).
Patent Search Limitations
There have been several previous studies on the top patent filers in the field of blockchain technology. For example, iPR Daily reported in August that Alibaba had filed the most blockchain related patent applications with a total of 90, followed closely by IBM with 89.
But just how accurate is this data?
Determining how many published blockchain related patent applications IBM has filed to date would be a monumental task. Just entering the term “blockchain” into Google Patents reveals 5,589 results! An unbelievable amount of patents to review.
That said, it’s possible to significantly narrow the size of the task by searching for key terms and limiting to relevant International Patent Classifications (IPC). For example, we could conduct a search for all patent applications in the name of IBM that mention the term “blockchain” and that include IPC H04L which relates to transmission of digital information.
However, clearly the search results will not include patent applications that either do not mention “blockchain” despite relating to the technology or that are classified in a different IPC.
There are also limitations in terms of the databases searched. If we search only English language databases, the search results will not include any patent applications filed in China, Japan, or Korea. Even if we did search these databases, what if the biggest filer of blockchain related patent applications was based in Brazil or India? Highly unlikely but this would not be revealed by our search.
One other major hole in any patent analysis is that patent applications are not usually published until after 18 months from the filing date (or earliest priority date – too complicated to explain here). As a result, a patent search will not reveal any patent applications filed within the last 18 months. Therefore, the top 10, or top 100 for that matter, could actually be wildly different from the current lists.
Imagine one of the companies outside the current top 10 filed 100 patent applications yesterday. Such a level of filings could send it straight to the number one spot but we’d have absolutely no idea for another 18 months. Because of this lag, the blockchain patent landscape will be shifting continuously with many of the top filers trading places day by day.
Consequently, and without an army of patent attorneys in all major jurisdictions, we can only really achieve a rough estimate for top patent filers in the field of blockchain technology. The likelihood is, though, that the results will reveal which companies are most active in this area.
Our Search Strategy
With all that said, we set out to determine which companies we believe are the top filers of blockchain patents.
To answer this question, we enlisted the help of PatSeer which is a powerful web based patent search engine that allows us to search over 115 million patent records covering more than 104 countries. It should therefore help us to get some pretty accurate results!
We chose to search all patents and patent applications for the term “blockchain” or “block chain” in all available databases that were filed on or after 1 January 2010. We’ve assumed here that it took companies a few months since the launch of Bitcoin to really take note and start an active patenting campaign.
As mentioned above, we’re not really interested in utility model patents or innovation patents. These are just too easy to file and, therefore, too easy for companies to use to manipulate their stats. We therefore limited our search to patent applications and patents.
Next, we chose to eliminate from our search results any patents or patent applications that have been abandoned or withdrawn. If they’re no longer pending or in force, they’re clearly not that relevant to the blockchain space.
Whilst reviewing the results, we noticed a few Japanese companies were unusually high up the listings and suspected there may have been something going on with the search for the term “blockchain” or “block chain”.
Delving into the Japanese search results, our suspicions were proved right as we found a number of the patents or patent applications were clearly not related to blockchain but instead were focussed on resin compositions…
So, it seems the term block chain, or at least the Japanese equivalent, may have its uses in the field of chemistry and particularly when used alongside polymer e.g. “block chain polymer”.
We needed to find a way to filter our results to exclude these irrelevant hits without eliminating genuine blockchain patents.
One obvious solution was to alter our search terms to exclude patents that include the term resin or something similar. This broad-brush approach has some obvious disadvantages.
Firstly, it may eliminate genuine blockchain patents that happen to mention the term resin. Secondly, it will not exclude hits that don’t mention the word resin but still use the term block chain in relation to chemical patents!
In the end, we chose to exclude any patents or patent applications that mention the term “resin” or “polymer” on the presumption these two keywords are unlikely to find their way into a genuine blockchain patent.
Finally, we want to avoid duplicating patents or patent applications. During the lifecycle of a patent application it may undergo several different events including publication, publication of a search report, re-publication of a correction, and publication of grant. Each of these events may be marked by a separate “kind code” and could therefore be counted as a separate patent application, thereby skewing our results. Accordingly, we chose to deduplicate by application number so as to reduce the likelihood of the same patent or patent application being counted more than once.
But weren’t quite finished!
Whilst skimming through the top 10, we noticed Coinplug Lnc sits at position number 7 with a total of 45 patents or patent applications. It’s clear this company is connected with, or could be the same as, Coinplug Inc (possibly with a misspelling in the name). So, we have to add 45 patents or applications to Coinplug’s total bringing it up to a whopping 118 and jumping Coinplug 2 places to 3rd!
Here’s our final search query that, when the above selected filters were applied, gave us our final top blockchain patent filers: