Cryptocurrency world must protect itself from 'low-quality patents' says Square lawyer as biz joins Open Invention Network

'I think the legislative framework around patents needs a deep examination, and I don’t think I'm alone in saying that'


Interview Square, which last year founded the Crypto Open Patent Alliance (COPA) to defend cryptocurrency technologies against patent trolls, has now joined the Open Invention Network (OIN) to further bolster its legal defenses.

Max Sills, counsel at Square and general manager at COPA, told The Register that the digital payment giant is "not anti-patent by any means. The point of a patent is to incentivize people to do really good creative work."

"What's actually happening in crypto is people are being creative regardless of government incentives," he said. "There's a ton of really fast, really open work on cryptocurrency exchanges, wallets, transmission mechanisms, and what we see is the people who are getting the patents aren't really any of the people who are contributing, usually, the core technology.

"So the system is a little skewed. What COPA wants to do is to make sure that crypto can be used by everyone."

The people who are getting the patents aren't really any of the people who are contributing, usually, the core technology

Now Square has joined OIN "for the same underlying reason we created COPA," Sills told us. "Square uses and contributes to many open-source projects and open technologies, and we only see ourselves doing that more in future. So joining OIN is natural for us because it's a commitment to the community that we're going to be a good actor."

The core of OIN is the agreement signed by all members that grants royalty-free access to Linux-related patents and cross-licenses Linux system patents between members. OIN was founded in 2005 by big names including IBM, Red Hat, and SUSE, in part to respond to the threat to Linux from Microsoft and its war chest of patents at that time. In 2018, Microsoft itself joined OIN.

Is Square aware of litigation threats from holders of cryptocurrency-related technology?

"If you look at the majority of patents being issued for crypto, they're very low quality," Sills told us.

"What people are doing is mostly copying publicly disclosed white papers or inventions that were disclosed in source code on GitHub and wrapping them up and trying to get patent protection on it.

"I'm not going to comment on existing matters, but there has already been litigation. There was a crypto-mining patent that was going around, and the entity that was holding it was threatening a lot of miners. It was just a single patent but that alone was enough to really disturb the ecosystem.

"The actual litigation threats we've seen have been very small in number so far but every single one has left an outsized impact on the developer community. We anticipate there to be a lot more in the future.

"We see the writing on the wall, and we love and depend on open source. So we're sending a signal to others in the industry that they should consider joining, too."

The actual litigation threats we've seen have been very small in number so far but every single one has left an outsized impact on the developer community

Sills said along with joining organisations like OIN and COPA, one of the best defenses against patent litigation is "if they threaten you over a specific library, keep open dialogue with other companies because there's power in numbers and often if there's a patent troll after you, they're also after a lot of other people."

Public disclosure of technology is also helpful. "You can't patent stuff that has been publicly disclosed so businesses should continue to post code and white papers and explain the techniques that are core to their business but do not use trade secrets," said Sills.

What does he think of the existing law around patents? "I think the legislative framework around patents needs a deep examination, and I don’t think I'm alone in saying that," he told us.

"Specifically with software and cryptocurrency technologies and open source, patents are becoming more of a block to innovation than something that incentivises. You can contrast that with, say, a drug that might take 10 years to develop, that makes sense to give someone a patent.

"It's also important to behave ethically," Sills added. For businesses that depend on open-source software, "it's really the minimal ethical thing you can do, to promise not to be aggressive over something you just found that someone else wrote, that's making you money." ®


Other stories you might like

  • North Korea pulled in $400m in cryptocurrency heists last year – report

    Plus: FIFA 22 players lose their identity and Texas gets phony QR codes

    In brief Thieves operating for the North Korean government made off with almost $400m in digicash last year in a concerted attack to steal and launder as much currency as they could.

    A report from blockchain biz Chainalysis found that attackers were going after investment houses and currency exchanges in a bid to purloin funds and send them back to the Glorious Leader's coffers. They then use mixing software to make masses of micropayments to new wallets, before consolidating them all again into a new account and moving the funds.

    Bitcoin used to be a top target but Ether is now the most stolen currency, say the researchers, accounting for 58 per cent of the funds filched. Bitcoin accounted for just 20 per cent, a fall of more than 50 per cent since 2019 - although part of the reason might be that they are now so valuable people are taking more care with them.

    Continue reading
  • Tesla Full Self-Driving videos prompt California's DMV to rethink policy on accidents

    Plus: AI systems can identify different chess players by their moves and more

    In brief California’s Department of Motor Vehicles said it’s “revisiting” its opinion of whether Tesla’s so-called Full Self-Driving feature needs more oversight after a series of videos demonstrate how the technology can be dangerous.

    “Recent software updates, videos showing dangerous use of that technology, open investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the opinions of other experts in this space,” have made the DMV think twice about Tesla, according to a letter sent to California’s Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), chair of the Senate’s transportation committee, and first reported by the LA Times.

    Tesla isn’t required to report the number of crashes to California’s DMV unlike other self-driving car companies like Waymo or Cruise because it operates at lower levels of autonomy and requires human supervision. But that may change after videos like drivers having to take over to avoid accidentally swerving into pedestrians crossing the road or failing to detect a truck in the middle of the road continue circulating.

    Continue reading
  • Alien life on Super-Earth can survive longer than us due to long-lasting protection from cosmic rays

    Laser experiments show their magnetic fields shielding their surfaces from radiation last longer

    Life on Super-Earths may have more time to develop and evolve, thanks to their long-lasting magnetic fields protecting them against harmful cosmic rays, according to new research published in Science.

    Space is a hazardous environment. Streams of charged particles traveling at very close to the speed of light, ejected from stars and distant galaxies, bombard planets. The intense radiation can strip atmospheres and cause oceans on planetary surfaces to dry up over time, leaving them arid and incapable of supporting habitable life. Cosmic rays, however, are deflected away from Earth, however, since it’s shielded by its magnetic field.

    Now, a team of researchers led by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) believe that Super-Earths - planets that are more massive than Earth but less than Neptune - may have magnetic fields too. Their defensive bubbles, in fact, are estimated to stay intact for longer than the one around Earth, meaning life on their surfaces will have more time to develop and survive.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022