If there’s a way to take the fun out of the craze in non-fungible tokens, IBM may have just found it: patents.
But that doesn’t mean news from the tech stalwart about using the blockchain to support NFTs for corporate patents isn’t an important development in the digitization of just about everything.
Intellectual property specialist IPwe, which has been working with IBM for years on a blockchain solution for the patent industry, announced on Tuesday that it will begin representing patents as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), or digital assets, in a deal announced in conjunction with IBM.
IBM’s blockchain group already works with corporate clients on tech efforts like tracking food supply chains using the blockchain. Now, it will provide the infrastructure for representing valuable patents as NFTs, and storing the information on a blockchain network.
“The tokenization of intellectual property (IP) will help position patents to be more easily sold, traded, commercialized or otherwise monetized and bring new liquidity to this asset class for investors and innovators,” the companies said in a joint release.
The companies said the NFTs will be stored and shared on the IPwe Platform, hosted on IBM Cloud and powered by IBM Blockchain.
He has cited the fact that only 2% to 5% of intellectual property in the patent market is valued and there is likely a $1 trillion-plus opportunity if the patent market can find a better means of identifying, authenticating, and trading on the IP, even at the level of only 10% of the total market that exists.
IPwe already offers the Global Patent Marketplace, a patent ecosystem to engage and transact, buy, license, finance, sell, research and commercialize patents, which it developed with IBM, where it was accepted to an early incubator program for blockchain projects, though Spangenberg tells CNBC it has not yet taken off as much as he had hoped, though the NFT moment may be a turning point.
IPwe is betting that enterprises, governments, universities and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as well as a broader set of financial institutions, insurers, enterprises and other patent stakeholders will use and exchange tokenized patents, with a trial of the new NFT system set for the second quarter.
“Enterprise wouldn’t even look at blockchain a few years ago. … We’re now at that adoption phase. … The first corporate asset is not a Dorsey tweet or Beeple image, but a corporate asset that starts to solve a business need,” he said. If the NFT effort is successful, it will make IPwe existing global patent registry irrelevant, “consuming what we built in less than two years,” he added.
But the underlying approach to using the blockchain and technology as a new way to embody the unique nature of a patent is the same. “A patent is unique. It was patent token and now just an NFT,” Spangenberg said. “IP touches every enterprise. Most business units that are successful operate at 10% to 15% ROI and IP should be the same.”
Jason Kelley, general manager of global strategic partnerships at IBM Services, said the “digitization of everything,” which has only intensified after the pandemic and broader acceptance of a new tech-centric way of life, is a perfect fit for the world of patents, where verification, validation and trust are so critical.
“If you can provide a platform that allows that to happen in an exchange of value it’s exciting. The tokenization of patent opens up markets. … You can value different patents and trade with greater capability, validity and trust,” he said.
Shyam Nagarajan, executive partner at IBM Blockchain Services, said the fact that each patent can have its own way of licensing the IP or transferring it makes it an interesting fit for NFTs and that is really an extension of the boom in coding smart contracts and contract terms, licensing terms, and income streams. “NFTs make it possible to get liquidity that is usually sitting on the corporate shelf or on the balance sheet,” he said.
The factors that IBM seems in this market developing are the blockchain’s ability to identify the assets, assign provenance and also tokenization.
“Those things overlap, whether food in a supply chain or shipment on a given container ship going from one place to another, or as recently as vaccines,” Kelley said, noting the unique nature of a health credential. “Uniqueness we see as the differentiator in this thing called the blockchain. The NFT just drives home what we have been working on for years.”