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China Leads Global Race for Blockchain Patents

September 24, 2018


Chinese inventors are in first place globally in the race to obtain patent protection on blockchain technology. These developments come as China continues to bolster its “Greater Bay Area,” a network of several southern population centers including Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Macau, designed to rival California’s Silicon Valley.

Blockchain-related patent filings hit an all-time high of 406 patents worldwide in 2017. Chinese companies and government entities filed 56% of these applications. By contrast, entities in the United States filed only 22% of such patents.

One Chinese company, e-commerce and technology giant Alibaba, filed 90 applications related to blockchain technology in 2017, accounting for over 10% of all patent applications worldwide. American computing outfit IBM was a close second, with 89 applications, and MasterCard came third with 80. Just 36 companies account for approximately 20% of global blockchain-related patents.

Blockchain technology has a wide range of applications. For example, Alibaba has begun to explore the use of blockchain technology in healthcare delivery, including through a partnership with the city of Changzhou. Similarly, Alibaba has implemented blockchain systems to help authenticate packages of rice grown in Wuchang in an attempt to eliminate the sale of counterfeit produce. The Supreme People’s Court has also issued guidelines on how blockchain can be used to authenticate evidence in legal proceedings in specialized “internet courts”.

China’s approach to blockchain patents comes amid government efforts to clamp down on online discussion of crypto-currency, a primary application of blockchain technology. The government’s actions include blocking search results of crypto-related sites on the popular search engine Baidu. In September 2017, China banned all sales of crypto-currency tokens in an effort to counter online fraud.

Blockchain refers to a number of related technologies which create open ledgers recording transactions in a permanent and verifiable manner. Each record, or “block,” is linked to the last through cryptography, and contains a timestamp and transaction data. By design, blockchain is resistant to attempts to subsequently modify data for improper reasons.

Crypto-currency is virtual or digital currency that uses blockchain technology for security and anonymity.


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