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July 04, 2022


Thank you for exploring this topic, Michael.

I believe that it is important to not feed into "blockchain hype" narratives set forth by mainstream media so I want to explore these ideas further.

In general, a blockchain is ideally used when multiple mutually mistrusting entities want to interact and change the state of a system and are not willing to agree on an online trusted third party.

For example, the Bitcoin network allows mistrusting participants to store and transfer value without requiring validation of a 3rd party (banks/Visa/government) (i.e., it is permission-less money technology). Proof of work serves as the consensus mechanism for the Bitcoin network and enables miners to secure Bitcoin's transaction history while subject to an increasing difficulty of altering the data over time.

By requiring ASIC miners expend real world energy via POW, Bitcoin operates as a distributed clock recording transactions that create an irrefutable history. In the case that two histories compete, the one with the most work embedded in it wins, which is called Nakamoto consensus.

When considering a blockchain for recording and maintaining assignments, there appears to already be an inherent trust by participating parties in the USPTO acting as a central party. As you commented in your article above, "[i]t is largely a write-only database of transactions in which records are rarely expunged... As new assignments are recorded, they can be added in new blocks. These blocks can be mined (verified) by USPTO computer systems to ensure than they are proper."

In the above scenario, if the USPTO computer systems act as the party that provide verification for assignment recordation into blocks, why not just keep the database as a read-only that USPTO ultimately controls? In this case, the USPTO appears to act as the only "miner" resulting in a centralized proof-of-stake consensus mechanism where assignors and assignees are subject to the approval of the USPTO as the party with the "largest stake." As an example result, the blockchain appears to be a ledger of assignments that are maintained by the USPTO systems with viewing access granted to companies/inventors.

Exploring the idea further, you stated that:
"[a]nother aspect of the proposed mining that would be beneficial is that it would have a low computational load compared to say, Bitcoin mining, since there would be no need to solve proof-of-work puzzles. There would also be no need to reward the miners with coins or tokens from the blockchain (to be clear, this blockchain need not implement any coins, tokens, or currency -- it could be purely a ledger of transactions). The USPTO's current systems would likely be able to handle the computational cost of mining."

I am confused what the "mining" operations here. It sounds like inventors/companies/attorneys may submit recorded assignments for entry into the ledger, which the USPTO systems can approve/reject.

Then you further elaborate:
"[a]lternatively, other U.S. government entities (or interested third parties) could offer servers to mine transactions and store their own copies of the assignment blockchain (of course, the blockchain consensus protocol would have to be arranged so that the USPTO has ultimate control over the determination of whether a transaction is valid)."

Here, I question why would other US government entities offer servers to mine transactions and store their own copies of the assignment blockchain. What is the reward for offering additional compute? This appears similar to one database simply sending updated copies to other databases, which again rely on trusting that the USPTO computing systems are maintaining the proper records. Why not just use a centralized database that is write-only and controlled by the USPTO. I believe you somewhat agree with this notion by stating "the USPTO has ultimate control over the determination of whether a transaction is valid."

With regards to the smart contract ideas, the automation aspect is appealing, but recent cryptocurrency-related hacks have shown that implementation can be challenging. Smart contracts suffer from the "Oracle Problem," which requires connection to information from the outside world. Here, perhaps traditional contracts between inventors and companies regarding the sale/transfer of assignments can avoid issues that arise when inputting information to determine if a smart contract should be executed.

If I wanted to play the Devil's Advocate, and throw in some intersectionalist Green concerns, one should take pause (at the least) of anything that is so energy wasteful as the underlying 'technologies' underpinning blockchain.

The comments to this entry are closed.

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