Square and its CEO Jack Dorsey announced the organization of the Crypto Open Patent Alliance (COPA) today. The company says it is putting all of its cryptocurrency-related patents into the non-profit org to be shared among its members — all in an effort to stifle abusive, offensive, or trollish behavior surrounding crypto-related patents.
What exactly is COPA, specifically? Thankfully, they answer that for us in their FAQ:
COPA is a non-profit community of people and companies formed to encourage the adoption and advancement of crypto technologies and to remove patents as a barrier to growth and innovation. The success of cryptocurrency depends on the community coming together to build and develop upon existing technologies to innovate, which is not possible when parties tie up the technologies in patents and litigation. Accordingly, COPA members take on a pledge to never assert their patents on foundational cryptocurrency technology against anyone, except for defensive reasons, and also agree to pool their patents together in a shared patent library such that any member has access to use another member’s patent defensively if they are forced into patent litigation by an aggressor.
Obviously, the first member of COPA is Square, and as of today, it doesn’t look like the company is announcing any other partnering organizations out the gate. But anyone who does decide to be part of COPA has to make one overarching commitment: never assert patents on what COPA calls “foundational cryptocurrency technology” against “anyone, except for defensive reasons.” Accordingly, members essentially have to agree to making their patents fully open to anyone else in the org.
If you weren’t able to figure this out from the #bitcoin hashtag in their CEO’s Twitter profile description, Square and co. clearly believe that a global Internet-native currency is necessary for humanity at large. Perhaps they don’t believe that it’s necessarily inevitable, though, hence this initiative. Further innovation — which is often stifled by patent trolls — could easily get in the way, in their view.
We believe that cryptocurrency’s success depends on the community coming together to build and develop upon existing technologies to innovate, which is not possible when parties tie up foundational technology in patents and litigation.
Two Oxen’s take:
This isn’t the first time a large Silicon Valley company has found it in their — and everyone’s, they argue — best interest to make sure patents don’t stifle innovation. For one modern example, see Tesla’s All Our Patent Are Belong To You from 2014, in which Musk wrote similar:
And maybe [patents] were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors.
It’s not a perfect comparison, but a company that sees its future dependent on the innovation of an emerging industry clearly has every reason to make sure that innovation and emergence actually happens. I’m genuinely not cynical about Square’s motives in this case, but it does make sense to pitch the initiative in the most altruistic way possible.
On a related note, I found one Square Crypto tweet regarding this announcement to be a little comedic. “In order to tackle this problem, the crypto community will need to once again do what it is so famous for and come together for the greater good,” Square Crypto wrote.
Within the crypto bubble, sure, Bitcoin and crypto is perhaps most famous for its altruistic humanitarian motives. But I’m not sure this particular quote will read well for those outside: your average person just sees a Bitcoin that’s rocketing in value (because why?), irreversible transactions in Twitter hacks and illicit Ponzi schemes. That perception, no matter how accurate or deserving, might even be a bigger challenge for Bitcoin and crypto than patent trolls.
The full screed from the Crypto Open Patent Alliance’s website follows, and let us know what you think in the comments section below.
We believe there needs to be a global native currency for the internet. Just as everyone should be able to participate in the economy and have access to the same tools and services, so too should everyone be able to participate in cryptocurrencies and have access to its underlying innovation.
At Square, we are committed to making our foundational technology on cryptocurrency available for everyone to use. Cryptocurrency technology and its adoption is still at a nascent stage. We believe that cryptocurrency’s success depends on the community coming together to build and develop upon existing technologies to innovate, which is not possible when parties tie up foundational technology in patents and litigation. While patents may at times be useful for defensive purposes, offensive and misguided use of patents threatens the growth and adoption of emerging technologies such as cryptocurrencies. There is concern that “patent lockup” of foundational cryptocurrency technologies by a select few will stifle innovation and deter mass-adoption.
That’s why we’re excited to announce the launch of the Cryptocurrency Open Patent Alliance (COPA), an invitation to everyone in the crypto community to join an open patent alliance to address these concerns. COPA tackles the patent lockup concern using a dual approach. First, COPA members pledge never to use their crypto patents against anyone, except for defensive reasons, effectively making these patents freely available for all to use. Second, COPA creates a shared patent library where members pool all of their crypto patents together to form a collective shield of patents, allowing members to use each others’ patents to deter and defend against patent aggressors. This helps democratize patents for everyone, empowering even small companies with tools and leverage to defend themselves.
As more members join and declare that they won’t offensively assert their patents against others, the overall incidence and threat of patent litigation comes down. Owning patents are often the best deterrents to ward off patent aggressors but not every company possesses or has access to patents. The shared patent library provides this shield, which gets larger and stronger as more members join, to every member – regardless of whether they are small or large, whether they own patents themselves or not – ultimately benefiting the entire community.
We hope that COPA will transform the way patents are viewed and used in the crypto world, and that it will help patents contribute to further innovation and advancement of cryptocurrencies rather than operate as obstacles. We envision the organization evolving over time, and look forward to discussions and feedback from the community to realize this mission.