Year/Course: 2020-2021, Lent 2021

Inventors: Dr. Frank Tietze, Institute for Manufacturing and ALPS
Mentor: Adrian Swinburne

Intellectual property (IP) is licensed widely in many industries. A typical end-user product whether highly complex like a mobile phone or simpler like a computer mouse may rely on many different pieces of IP licensed from multiple companies under different payment terms. These can create a complex requirement of reporting sales by the manufacturer, and also rely on trust from the IP owner that all the products are being reported accurately. A similar situation exists in industrial contexts where different patents may cover different stages of the manufacturing process, as well as the equipment used and the final product being manufactured.

One way in which some industries have addressed this complexity is by creating “patent pools” whereby the customer simply licenses multiple patents in a single agreement. The “patent pool” is then responsible for distributing the payments received appropriately between the different patent owners. However this still raises the same issues of trust and need for transparency.

ALPS is developing a blockchain-based digital IP license system with the aim of automating IP reports and payments in a traceable way. They anticipate producing a “Bill of IP” for products in the same way as manufacturers have a stated “Bill of Materials”. Digital licenses need to be able to replicate the terms of the current paper contracts, which contain many variables and approaches.

The question for the i-Team is to look at where a blockchain-based system would be welcomed, in terms of industries and types of products. They will also need to investigate the range of commercial models used by other industrial software platform providers, to see which might be appropriate for a system of this type. The aim of the inventors is to find some early simple examples for collaboration and testing of the system before moving into more complex markets and applications.