25 January 2021
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Launched last year, WIPO Proof is an initiative created by the World Intellectual Property Office (“WIPO”). In a nutshell, the WIPO Proof scheme is a tool for those who do, or might, need to evidence the existence of a document in a particular form, at a particular time. Consider the scenario: I present a document that I say I have had for several years. The contents of the document indicate that the information contained within was in my possession at some time in the past. But how do I prove that I did truly have that exact document (and therefore the information it contains)? How do I prove that I have not created or modified the document more recently? Of course digital document metadata often includes timestamp information. However without third party corroboration, such data may be called into question. WIPO Proof may provide that third party corroboration.

WIPO Proof uses blockchain-like technology to create a digital signature of a particular digital file. The digital signature of an earlier version of the document is created and stored with WIPO. That signature is securely timestamped by WIPO. At a later time, the same signature creation routine is performed on a current copy of, allegedly, the same document. WIPO then compare the earlier and later signatures. If the digital signatures match then the document has not been changed, and it’s existence at the time the first digital signature is verified. If the digital signatures do not match then the document has been modified in some way in the intervening period, and the existence of the document at the time of the earlier signature is not verified. Hence, one can verifiably, via the WIPO third party, evidence that a document existed in its current form at the original timestamp.

The technology behind the scheme works at the level of the bits making up the data of the file – the 1’s and 0’s. The actual meaning of the data is of no consequence to the creation of the digital signature or to WIPO. Furthermore, the hash calculation – the hash being a portion of the digital key – is performed locally by the user’s internet browser. This means that the file which is the subject of the hash and the signature is never sent to WIPO, nor to anyone else. The owner retains exclusive possession of that document at all times, and they are provided with a digital “token” for the file. Only the digital signature is stored securely by WIPO. To verify the file at a later date, a user locally provides the file in question to his or her internet browser, along with the token. WIPO then recalculates the hash, performs the comparison and verifies the document (or not). The hash algorithm to create the signature is a “one way” hashing algorithm, which means that even if a malicious actor were to obtain the hash, it is impossible to reverse the hash to obtain the file for which it was calculated.

But how might it be used? The answer is that many categories of information that do not lend themselves to more traditional forms of registered IP protection could be protected / verified in this way. The only requirement is that the data in question be in a digital form; specific file format (e.g.pdf file format) is of no consequence. Examples of documents might include technical information – for example, source code, neural network training data, know-how, trade secrets, research data, and optimal operating / control parameters. Creative endeavours are also a possibility, for examples CAD files for industrial designs, music, images, photographs, and digital representations of drawings and paintings are also potentially verifiable. Finally, the existence of legal and commercial documentation and data could be verified, for example contracts, non-disclosure agreements, or customer databases.

The initiative is not a replacement for traditional IP, but rather another tool in the arsenal of the IP-aware and digitally conscious business. The process is simple and the pricing is reasonable, so it’s certainly worth considering whether WIPO proof might be useful in protecting your business’ assets.

Dan is a Partner and Patent Attorney at Mewburn Ellis. He works on all aspects of the patent application process in the mechanical, electronics, and engineering sectors. This includes patent drafting and prosecution. Dan is also experienced in providing freedom to operate opinions and the freedom to operate process.

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