Blockstack Pledges to Enforce Patents for 'Defensive Purposes' Only

Blockstack, the startup building a decentralized backbone for Web 3.0, is open-sourcing its two patents – kinda.

Apr 28, 2020 at 4:35 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 8:34 a.m. UTC

Blockstack, the firm building a decentralized backbone for Web 3.0, is open sourcing its patents – kinda.

CEO Muneeb Ali told CoinDesk his firm plans to enforce its patents “for defensive purposes only,” a pledge that could allow independent developers, and even other organizations, to copy Blockstack’s patented designs.

“This pledge means that we’ll never use our patents to try to sue innovators who are helping to build a user-owned internet, and we’ll use the patents defensively only when someone is trying to stifle that innovation,” a document shared with CoinDesk reads.

Blockstack – whose anti-Google slogan is “Can’t Be Evil” – has effectively pledged to not initiate infringement lawsuits against open source developers. The legal goodwill does not appear to extend ad infinitum, though. Blockstack’s “defensive purposes” definition covers economic activities such as the selling, leasing and licensing of Blockstack intellectual property.

The legal vow applies to Blockstack’s two patents, both relatively new. Its first patent, covering a dapp single sign-in feature, was granted in late March and the second patent, for decentralized data migration, was issued Tuesday.

Balancing priorities

Ali said Blockstream’s patent strategy is a pragmatic adaptation to the realities of U.S. patent culture. 

Pointing to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s first-to-file policy, Ali said tech giants such as IBM and Microsoft have staked their blockchain claims at a blistering clip.

“The large tech monopolies are a big problem already,” he said, “and if they potentially try to hurt the future roadmap of our open source project with patents that’s a very negative outcome for us.”

Blockstack decided to protect its roadmap with patents covering “core innovations.” It was an intellectual property imperative in an environment where others might have tried to exploit Blockstack’s designs, Ali said. “It was the best path forward for us,” he added.

Defensive patents aim to walk that fine legal line, Ali said. Blockstack will refrain from suing infringers that build on patents in an open source and innovative manner. It may nonetheless enforce patents against infringers who are “trying to stifle innovation,” according to the company’s pledge.

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