Smart IP Rights – The Future of IP Enforcement?

Last month, IP Australia and its partner Agile Digital won three awards at the Digital Canberra iAwards for their Smart Trade Mark.

As the global marketplace becomes more and more complex so too do the supply chains operating within it.  In parallel, there is increasing attraction and potential for counterfeiting activities, as well as opportunities for those wishing to profit from gaps and inaccurate information within these supply chains.  Global sales of counterfeit goods were determined at USD$1.2 trillion in 2017, projected to reach USD$1.82 trillion by 2020, and are currently estimated to already exceed USD$1.5 trillion per year.


What is Smart IP?

The Smart Trade Mark concept is the first in a series of Smart Intellectual Property (IP) Rights being developed by IP Australia, to support and protect inventors, entrepreneurs and businesses operating on the global stage.

Smart IP Rights are a digital representation or “fingerprint” of an owner’s IP.  They create a connection and a thread of online information between the IP right on the official IP register and relevant digital services, thereby supporting owners in enforcing their IP rights.


How Does Smart IP Work?

The concept behind the system is that goods are scanned and tracked as they move through a supply chain using:

  • A series of APIs (application programming interfaces) for connecting digital and online services;
  • Mobile apps, and;
  • Blockchain technology – an open and distributed internet-based record of transactions that cannot be altered without the entire network being made aware and providing their consent

Essentially it is a “track and trace” solution that includes IP and government authenticity stamps, as well as clear information as to the origin of goods.

The system also provides further protection through its use of notifications.  All events and locations are recorded within the blockchain as the goods pass through the supply chain.  Any suspicious activity is notified to the legitimate parties concerned.

Using this information, the Smart IP system also serves to provide greater insight and intelligence around counterfeiting activity within global supply chains.


Current State of the Technology

The project is still in its early days, but has already completed two proof-of-concept pilots where products were successfully tracked between supplier and consumer across borders.

The findings of the trials are helping to formulate the Smart IP Rights strategy as well as guiding the next stages of the project, which are likely to include a pilot application using the available APIs and blockchain systems.


Potential Future Applications

There is growing interest around the world, including active projects at, for example, the European Patent Office, concerning the application of blockchain technology for the management and enforcement of IP Rights across their entire life cycle.

Potential areas of application include:

  • Managing the ownership of IP and the transfer of assignments
  • Smart contracts for licensing
  • IP audits and due diligence
  • IP transactions, including mergers and acquisitions
  • Evidence of genuine and/or first use in trade and commerce

The Smart Trade Mark could be applied to a wide range of products and goods, and the broader concept of Smart IP has the potential to speed up and improve the efficiencies of multiple processes necessary for effective IP portfolio management in the 21st century.

Although the Smart Trade Mark is currently only available for Australian rights, it is exciting to see tangible projects being conducted that bring the concept closer to real-world applications.

I would encourage New Zealand, with its strong high-tech sector, to participate as a leading party to making the whole concept of Smart IP a global reality.

Alistair Curson



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