One of the biggest trademark offices in the world, the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), has tabbed blockchain to solve its most vexing problem: counterfeit goods.
The EU “Blockathon” (blockchain + hackathon) was held June 22-25 at Autoworld in Brussels, and the EUIPO asked me to participate in the event as an expert in the field of trademark protection and blockchain, and teach a “Masterclass” outlining the natural alignment between blockchain and IP Rights protection.
The EUIPO and the European Commission invite the best and most pioneering teams to join the alliance against fake products and to co-create the next level of anti-counterfeiting infrastructure, by working directly with manufacturers, logistics companies, customs, retailers and consumers.
[We] will assemble top specialists in law, IP rights, anti-counterfeiting, track and trace, ecosystem dynamics, logistics and security to support the 11 selected teams. The total prize to be awarded is EUR 100.000. This is the unique opportunity to work together with everyone you need to achieve the best possible solutions and to explore how blockchain technology can actually make a difference and lead to a better society.
The fact that blockchain has been recognized (at such a high level) as a solution to some of the fundamental problems in trademark protection and rights enforcement is incredibly exciting for Cognate and the industry as a whole.
As for the competition itself, the level of sophistication of the eleven participating teams was truly impressive. Many of the teams were existing companies (some of them had even ICO’d) while others were meeting in person for the first time. All teams were filled with seasoned entrepreneurs, engineers, and PhDs. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in robust end-to-end solutions, which tracked the provenance of a product from manufacturer, to logistics operator, to customs enforcement agency, to consumer.
One of the biggest challenges faced by the teams – and really anyone hoping to use a blockchain ledger as a definitive record of truth – was how to ensure that accurate data is entered into the system.
Most teams settled on some version of a “virtual handshake,” where the custody of the good was transferred from one custodian to the next via some sort of scan — the technologies of choice being QR codes, NFC chips, and RFID chips.
Roughly half of the teams designed a token economy to incentivize the various stakeholders in the ecosystem. Unsurprisingly, most were focused on rewarding the consumers for checking legitimacy of the goods. Each time the consumer scans (either by QR, NFC, or RFID) the product, an app would show the provenance of that product from creation, to purchase, to delivery, and the consumer would be rewarded with a token. The token’s utility varied for each team, but the general idea was that companies would want to reward consumers who ensured the authenticity of their goods.
The most impressive solution was developed by “Team Cryptomice”, who won the overall competition and the Logistics Challenge, and were runner-up in the Consumer and Customs Challenges (full list of winners and teams).
I’m looking forward to tracking the progress of Cryptomice and the rest of the participants to see how widely their solutions are adopted/integrated into existing manufacturing, logistics, and customs operations, and perhaps most importantly, how widely adopted they’ll be by consumers.