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EPO holds first major conference on blockchain

5 December 2018

The EPO has held
its first major conference on patenting blockchain.
Attended by over 300
participants, the one-day event in The Hague yesterday explored the
implications of blockchain for patent applicants and other stakeholders as the
technology is applied to an ever-increasing variety of technical fields.

Koen Lievens of the EPO and Wang Xinyi of CNIPA present the offices’ approaches to dealing with blockchain patent applications.

In his welcome address EPO President António
Campinos emphasised that “technologies of the fourth industrial revolution are
gaining ever more momentum – and everyone in IP has to get to grips with
technical developments that are driving this period of great change – and to
understand their impact.” Noting that patent applications for blockchain are
rising fast, he underlined that such patents are nonetheless examined by the
EPO in accordance with stable criteria developed on the basis of case law
related to computer implemented inventions: “Our examination guidelines are
constantly reviewed and adapted to ensure these criteria are transparent and
that our practice remains predictable, both to examiners and external

The first keynote speakers covered the
blockchain basics, setting out the main principles, key players and areas of
use for this new technology, and the first panel discussed the future impact of
this now rapidly developing field and its links to other unfolding digital
technologies like artificial intelligence (AI).

EPO`s first-ever blockchain conference, held at its site in The Hague on 4 December 2018

Over the course of the day, participants also
heard about the rising challenges of searching blockchain, legal issues
associated with blockchain and, in particular, how the EPO examines blockchain
patent applications. An analysis of the emerging patent landscape has revealed
a steep increase in patent applications since 2015 – a trend similar to the one
seen in the case of related technical fields such as AI and self-driving
vehicles. Presentations on the approaches in China and Japan, which also show
steep climbs in blockchain applications, were therefore met with particular
interest, especially concerning the similarities and differences in the treatment
of blockchain.

At the close of the conference the EPO’s Vice-President of Operations Alberto
Casado highlighted the potential of blockchain for innovation in an almost
unlimited number of uses, saying that “we are at the beginning of a revolution.
Blockchain started in the financial sector – but its spreading to all fields of
industrial applications. It is growing in all fields”.

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