In tech, innovation is everything. In innovation, intellectual property is, well, almost everything — it can be the hardware, the software, the processes that come from creative endeavor.
And patents? Well, consider them a form of competitive advantage.
News came recently, when it comes to patents tied to the blockchain landscape, that Thomson Reuters found China, and Alibaba, to have had an outsized showing. Last year, 56 percent of all blockchain patents issued trace their genesis from China. That far outpaces the 22 percent that came from the United States, the runner up last year.
The overall pace, seen globally, has been up quite a bit, as measured against the 134 patents worldwide seen in 2016. Within the China subset, noted sites such as Nikkei Asian Review, Alibaba had a notable piece of the patent pie. The company filed more than 10 percent of the worldwide volume of patents seen last year at 43.
Alibaba Bets On The Blockchain
The Alibaba activity comes amid Chinese media reports that a municipal government initiative, in the Wuchang Heilongjiang Province, has linked with Alibaba affiliates Ant Financial and Alipay — aimed at combating food counterfeiting, such as has been seen with higher quality grades of rice. The company is also branching out into healthcare, working with an eastern Chinese city to use blockchain to safeguard and transport healthcare data.
All told, Alibaba has 90 blockchain-related patents, which, at the end of August, nudged IBM’s 89.
The Alibaba/China presence in blockchain patents shows a further bifurcation in the country’s approach to digital efforts, such as cryptocurrencies and blockchain. In the case of the former, there has been a ban levied against crypto trading, and initial coin offerings (ICOs) have been short-circuited as well. As has been well-documented in this space, the damper on activity tied to cryptos has extended to social media.
Yet, blockchain remains an area of interest. The concept and execution of distributed ledger technologies (DLT) has been one that President Xi Jinping stated can be part of “reshaping the global economic structure.”
In the Nikkei Asian Review, John Eastwood, law partner at Eiger Law, said the patent activity shows “blockchain is a new technological landscape, where it could be very profitable for Chinese companies to grab significant territory in their patent claim language. Holding several patents helps to give an aura of legitimacy that helps many companies in the blockchain field to attract investors or acquirers.”
Separately on blockchain, and in further efforts tied to the food industry, Ripe.io, billed as an AgriTech startup, has grabbed $2.4 million in financing from a host of investors — including Maersk Growth, the venture capital (VC) arm of Maersk, the shipping firm. The idea of “blockchain for food” is one that rests on the idea that consumers can know where their food is sourced, where supply chains can be digitized.
A bit closer to home, The Washington Examiner noted that, in recent weeks and into September (and beyond), sentiment in the energy industry could shift — where blockchain is associated less with bitcoin, mining and energy drains/cost centers, with changes in the very way business is done in the sector.
That follows a meeting late last month of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which examined utilities by looking at blockchain and energy security. Puerto Rico is looking at ways to beef up the performance and security of the electric grid itself, following hurricanes that struck last year. The United Nations, in addition, will host a conference next year for its Environment Assembly, aimed at exploring innovation (and in part, blockchain).