Blockchain: The Next Battle For Patent Trolls

Patent troll Erich Spangenberg, who is hated in Silicon Valley for challenging the patents on all sorts of technology, is eyeing the cryptocurrency market next.

Citing a recent blog by Spangenberg, CNBC reported news that he has created a new group to unlock the value in blockchain intellectual property, arguing that while the press is focused on bitcoin, another important story that gets less coverage is the technology that underpins it: blockchain.

The patent troll is amassing a treasure trove of blockchain patents that he can enforce as the distributed ledger technology takes off. Spangenberg has started a company dubbed IPwe that has 20 full-time employees and a team of consultants. They are tasked with applying “blockchain, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to improve patents,” Spangenberg wrote in the blog post. “It is a curious path how a collection of misfit trolls, geeks and wonks ended up here — but we are going to crush it and make a fortune.”

Since the start of blockchain, the technology has adhered to an open-source stance. Patent trolls, of course, always go where the money is, so it’s not surprising lawsuits and fights might soon break out in the blockchain market as well. Spangenberg did not return multiple email requests for comment by CNBC.  

James Bessen, an economist and executive director of the Technology & Policy Research Initiative at Boston University School of Law told CNBC that IPwe is a typical setup for a patent troll company, in which people come up with new patents and file them.

“Spangenberg, he has made out well,” Bessen said. “You want to go into a new field like blockchain because there won’t be a lot of patents, and the original stuff was open source.” Bessen noted that based on his own review of the U.S Patent and Trademark Office’s search database, the office has granted 265 patents related to bitcoin and 53 patents related to the blockchain, with the earliest blockchain patent happening in April of 2015.


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