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Bennett Collen is the co-founder and CEO of Boston-based Cognate, the world’s first blockchain-powered trademark rights protection platform. The Company allows trademark owners to create permanent, time-stamped records of trademark use. In order to effectively enforce and profit from their trademarks, companies should be able to prove where, when, and how their marks are being used.
Owners simply fill out a form about their trademark and attach a few documents to prove they are actively using their trademark. The information is uploaded into Cognate’s searchable database where anyone can search for a trademark. This allows trademark owners to actively protect their trademark rights and makes it easier to defend trademark rights in a number of situations, from registration, to enforcement, to protecting unregistered “common law” trademark rights.
The son of two trademark attorneys, Bennett grew up living and breathing trademark law.
“I grew up working at my parent’s law firm, heard about trademarks at the dinner table, I went to the International Trademark Association annual meeting since I was born, my entire life centered around it,” explained Bennett.
Surprisingly, Bennett took a separate path when it came time for college, attending Boston College in 2007 as an environmental geosciences major. While Bennett enjoyed his studies, he couldn’t stay away from trademarks for long. After returning to work for his parent’s firm as a business development specialist, he noticed that many companies using trademarks every day were unaware of how trademark rights worked, how they were earned, and most surprisingly to him — there was no central repository for unregistered “common law” trademarks. That’s when Cognate was born.
“We (my father and I) set out to create a third party non-governmental database where users could record unregistered trademark rights,” Bennett explained. Customers immediately took to the idea, but there were two fundamental issues:
- How do we trust your time stamps?
- What happens to my data if Cognate goes out of business?
After weeks of searching for an answer, it finally came to Bennett and his co-founder in the most Boston-way possible. “I first heard term blockchain at pitch event,” explained Bennett. After winning second place in the pitch event based on their original trademark database idea, one of the investors on the judging panel asked if they had ever considered using blockchain to solve their two biggest problems.
“Coincidentally, we had signed up for an MIT event later that week on the use cases of the Ethereum blockchain,” Bennett added. At the event, the speaker described in detail the idea of a secure, time-stamped ledger that could never be changed or destroyed.
“We looked at eachother and thought, here we go,” said Bennett.
Then the reading started. Bennett read everything he could get his hands on, from whitepapers, to books, to blog posts. His technical co-founder, Chris, had to teach himself Solidity, smart contracts, and best practices for coding on the blockchain. Bennett’s recommendation for blockchain beginners? Read The Business Blockchain by William Mougayar.
Fast forward two years, and Cognate has made quite a splash in the Boston blockchain ecosystem. “The advantage we had was that we had identified a need. Blockchain was the real way to solve our problem and we had a legit use case,” Bennett explained. “If you don’t have a compelling reason to use the tech, it will be found out.”
From there, Bennett attributed his success to a deep understanding of the trademark market. His lifelong exposure to trademarks gave him an idea of the different stakeholders at play. From trademark owners and attorneys to in-house counsel, Bennett remained confident that he knew what drove the different players.
After socializing the idea at the International Trademark Association Annual Meeting this year, Bennett said people were excited about the tech. “Last year when I told people, they would scratch their heads,” joked Bennett. “This year, everyone is very enthusiastic about it.”
Now he’s looking at a busy few months ahead. “We’re going to announce some partnerships in the next few months, we are releasing a beta version for our copyright product, we are speaking with government trademark offices themselves, both federal and regional, and more.”
But while Bennett has made a ton of progress in the past 2 years, he isn’t done thinking big just yet. “The real home run would be a global trademark system. One unified record system for all trademarks in use across the globe, where each trademark has one blockchain based address that contains information on its use, registration status, and rights worldwide,” Bennett asserts.
With one record, people will be able to better operate within the current system. While each government and jurisdiction will maintain their sovereignty and enforcement control, the proof of use documents and timestamps will help make the processes for protecting, and profiting from, trademark rights seamless. “Enforcement gets easier, clearance gets easier, licensing a brand, it all gets easier,” explains Bennett.
To learn more about Cognate and their searchable trademark database, visit their website at: https://cognate.com/.