Since late 2015 a considerable media hype could be observed around cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology, or, more generalized, distributed ledger technology. Is this hype reflected by a corresponding rapidly rising number of patent applications ?
The following diagram shows the number of US-, EP- and PCT patent applications (source: Derwent Innovation patent database) since 2011 as well as granted US and EP patents containing the expressions “blockchain” or “bitcoin” or “distributed ledger” in the title, the abstract, or the claims. The x-axis represents the year of the first filing date (priority date) of a patent family; applications filed both e.g. in the US and in Europe are thus counted only once.
The diagram shows a siginificant increase of the patent activity from 20 patent applications in 2013 to 324 patent applications in 2016, but not a hype. One must keep in mind, however, that patent applications are in general published only 18 months after the earliest filing date. The development in the last 18 months is thus not visible in this diagram. Moreover, many blockchain projects are open source and do not seek patent protection.
The number of patent grants (which are publidhed without delay) shows only very modest numbers. In 2017, 21 US patents and 1 EP patent relating to blockchain technology have been granted.
The top 10 patent applicants (assignees) are shown in the following diagram:
US applicants dominate, lead by Mastercard with 44 applications, bearing in mind that Chinese national applications are not included. The most important applicants from Europe are Nchain, the vehicle of “would-be Satoshi Nakamoto” Craig Wright and British Telecom, owning the single granted European patent relating to blockchain technology.