The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) recently launched its new online business service, “WIPO PROOF”. The platform aims to help innovators and creators safeguard their intellectual assets from misuse by third parties by creating date and time-stamped digital fingerprints (Tokens) for specific digital files uploaded to the website. Users are subsequently provided with tamper-proof evidence which demonstrates the prior existence of their creative works.
In this article, we explain how WIPO PROOF works and how it might be put to use by innovators, intellectual property owners and content creators.
The idea is that such evidence will safeguard creators’ intellectual assets at every stage of the development cycle and provide a clear chain of title from the development stage of creative works to the commercialisation of such works.
The technology behind WIPO PROOF is designed to be tamper-proof and secure. By designing a technology that complements existing IP systems, rather than using blockchain technology, WIPO have ensured the system is both easy to use and maintains discretion (as blockchain is listed on a public registry).
For more information on the technology used by WIPO see here: https://wipoproof.wipo.int/wdts/use-cases.xhtml
How does it work?
Step 1: Creators access WIPO PROOF’s secure online website via the url <wipoproof.wipo.int>.
Step 2: Creators choose a digital file in any electronic format and request for a Token to be generated.
Step 3: The local browser generates a Token of the file using WIPO PROOF’s secure one way hashing algorithm.
Step 4: WIPO PROOF’s systems timestamp the hash of the digital file which is synchronised to the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
Step 5: A digital signature is created for the file to ensure authenticity.
Step 6: Users can download the resulting WIPO PROOF Token which provides proof of existence of the digital file at the point in time the Token was created.
One of the key benefits of the platform is that anyone can set up an account and purchase a Token. More information on how the platform works can be found at: https://www.wipo.int/export/sites/www/pressroom/en/documents.
A Mechanism for Dispute Resolution?
Primarily, the WIPO PROOF service aims to provide credibility to evidence that an intellectual property (IP) right existed at a specific time. WIPO recommends that users download the Token, store the confirmation email and original digital file together in the same folder as easily accessible records. It is particularly important to keep the original digital file, unaltered, alongside the relevant Token. Any change in the file, however small, will invalidate the Token.
This service may speed up IP litigation, particularly in copyright, design and patent proceedings, where establishing when the relevant rights accrued may be more difficult. Ideally, if use of the service were to become more widespread, parties might even be questioned as to why a Token was not obtained for a specific work or item.
At the moment, Tokens can only be used in countries that recognise digital timestamping as legitimate legal proof. WIPO PROOF does not replace the IP registration systems within each country and does not offer actual “protection”. Tokens are likely to be admissible evidence if they can be reliably proven to be generated in compliance with national, regional or international standards. Furthermore, although there is no time limit on the validity of the Token, they may become invalid if the algorithms used to create them fail (which could happen after five or ten years), putting a practical time limit on their usefulness in legal disputes.
What is the benefit of generating a WIPO PROOF Token?
- For creators, the ability to demonstrate the existence of a creative work (in which copyright may subsist) at the time of creation is an important aspect of protecting works from potential infringement by third parties. Generating a WIPO PROOF Token could assist creators in proving that they had created an original work before anyone else.
- Copyright works are often collaborative efforts where separate copyright may apply to several different documents/files, for example:
- lyrics (text) and actual musical compositions;
- scripts and staging directions (text) and actual plays;
- design specifications (drawings);
- the actual 3D object.
The WIPO PROOF service can process several different copyright works individually to ensure that the many valuable outputs of multiple creators’ works are deposited and this may help safeguard against future disagreements around issues of authorship or timing.
- Moreover, for those seeking to exploit their intellectual assets by pitching their creative ideas to sponsors (for example in the context of television formats) WIPO PROOF may provide useful evidence to help secure agreements with media broadcasters.
(II) Design Rights
- A WIPO PROOF Token can provide a date and time stamp for when initial design concepts were conceived. This may help with proving originality and authorship in a design right both relating to registered as well as unregistered designs .
(III) Trade marks
- If the owner of a trade mark (registered or unregistered) is required to show evidence of use of a mark, the WIPO PROOF Token could be used to provide credible evidence in establishing such use, as well as the establishment of goodwill (which may be relevant in the context of a passing off claim).
(IV) Patents and Life Sciences
- In the life sciences sectors, researchers are likely to generate extensive data (including biochemical, genetic and sequences etc.) which may be a significant intellectual asset for future research and use. WIPO PROOF Tokens could provide innovators with tamper-proof evidence that this data existed at a certain point in time.
- In circumstances where innovators wish to make data publicly available for open science and innovation, the Token may provide evidence of possession of the data before its publication. Similarly, in the event that innovators wish to maintain their data undisclosed, the Token may provide evidence of prior use rights in the case of any third party patent filings affecting use of the data.
- Timestamping data with WIPO PROOF is unlikely to be a public disclosure and therefore should not create novelty destroying prior art. Innovators can also file patent applications which include or build on this data (subject to no other public disclosure being made).
- Timestamping may be useful in defending patent infringement claims as it may provide evidence of prior use.
- Where parties may be collaborating on new inventions, timestamping of documents could be used to more easily demonstrate IP ownership in entitlement disputes.
(V) Trade Secrets
- Use of WIPO PROOF could strengthen innovators’ trade secret protection by discouraging the possible theft or misuse of the data.
The cost of an individual WIPO PROOF token is 20 CHF (approximately £16), and the cost per Token decreases when bought in bundles. WIPO PROOF is therefore accessible and cost effective for both individual creators and large companies.
We expect that WIPO PROOF will serve as an important tool for creators. It provides an evidential trail that shows the time and date intellectual assets were created, even if the assets themselves may not satisfy the requirements for registrable and unregistrable IP rights at that moment in time.
Co-authored by Shirin Shah