Nov 30, 2023

ENS founder Nick Johnson tells CoinDesk he’s unhappy with Unstoppable Domains's patenting of work that he claims he produced and published earlier.

Video transcript

The founder and lead developer of the theory of name service claims that unstoppable domains want a patent based quote entirely on innovations that ENS developed. He's now considering challenging that patent. Joining us now to discuss the Ens founder Nick Johnson. Welcome to the show. Nick. Hi, pleasure to be here. Pleasure to have you. Now, we're going to get into the details of this, but just based off of my intro there, why didn't you challenge the patent? So our approach to IP development has been very much an open source one, we became aware of the patent only relatively late in the process. And so by the time we had everything in a position to robustly challenge it, we felt it was better to wait to engage in conversation with U DC, how that went and to be able to put forward a robust challenge to it rather than rushing in. Now, I I'm just curious, did you previously consider applying an open source license to the project? Usually when open source projects come to fruition, um especially outside of web three, they'll apply an open source license which allows others to use it, not change it not patent it. Is that ever something that you considered all of our codes open source license under mit, and it has been since the start of the project. Unfortunately, that doesn't prevent somebody from applying for a patent on the same ideas. So, why didn't you apply for it? Ah, as I say, our approach in the past has been open innovation. We don't see the value in patents or we don't see a positive value in patents for the software industry and particularly for Web three, I think in retrospect, we should have been more defensive and we're looking at changing that going forward while maintaining our open ethos, I think approaches like the crypto Open Patent Alliance are a very good way to handle this. Um But yeah, our attitude was that we were focused on innovating, not on attempting to prevent other people from using what we built now in response to III, I guess I, I guess my question here is, um, they, they went out, they basically, so in other words, you went out, you develop all this. It's open source. They go, hey, that's a great idea. We'll just, you know, copy paste and patent it. Um Wasn't there anything you could have done even just copyright the code? Well, the code is copyright but patent and copyright are two quite different IP regimes. So it's not a copyright violation to write a patent on other ideas or on things that are copyrighted. It should be effectively impossible to get the patent because people can point to plenty of prior art showing that it was not your invention. But unfortunately, the US patent system is not terribly functional at the best of times and often grants patents on things that aren't particularly novel. All right, in response to this unstoppable domains issued a press release pledging its patent to the Web Three Domain Alliance. We understand that you were invited to be a part of the Web Three Domain Alliance and participate uh talk to us about this resolution. What did you think of it? And would you join the alliance? So we've emphasized several times, we welcome them to pledge their patent, but it needs to be in a legally binding way because we can't be expected to rely on press release assurances and nothing more. And I think that if they're earnest about wanting to pledge it, then backing it up legally should be a non-issue as for invitations to join the Web Three Domain Alliance. Generally, I view that as a very unstoppable driven industry group, I think it exists mostly to legitimize their claims over top level domains and so forth. And so we're cautious about joining something that seemed to legitimize U DS approach to naming and to internet governance rather than doing what we believe is best for the Web Three community. So what's the best outcome here? I think the best outcome and the one that wastes the least amount of money for everybody on legal fees would be that UD agree to license this patent and others that are derivative of it in a broadly open way. I think there are plenty of existing good defensive patent strategies available. There are licenses available that make it clear that the patent will not be enforced unless you take action against the people who own it. And I think that sort of approach would demonstrate amply that UD is retaining this entirely for defensive purposes. Now, unstoppable provided a statement to coin desk. I'm just going to read it out here. Um So we can get their voice in the segment. The patent is directly related to the technology we deployed for our original dot crypto registry on Ethereum and is distinct to our use including many inventions that make it easier for a centralized company like ours to run a domain registry, for example, gasless transactions by paying for gas for users, which we have offered for four years. Now, this is not something any other naming system did at that time and quote, how do you respond to that? I don't think it's an accurate summary of the patent and I think anyone can look at the patent and it's claims which are worded in fairly plain English. And it's quite clear they describe different ways for resolving web browser content from decentralized naming services in the browser va plug in and so forth which is all stuff we were doing before unstoppable existed, let alone filed this patent. All right, we will continue to follow this story closely. Nick, thank you so much for joining the show and unpacking. Uh What's been going on from your side? I must add that unstoppable Domains has also been invited to join us on coin desk TV. Nick. Thanks so much. My pleasure. That was Ens founder Nick Johnson.

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