Could new “digital fingerprinting” service protect innovators and streamline intellectual property disputes?


Intellectual property rights are an important and valuable asset for most businesses, whether it be the trademarks for their logos and brand names, the patents and designs for their products, or simply the copyright for their website and promotional materials.

Some intellectual property (“IP”) rights are “registrable” and can therefore only be protected by registering them, while “unregistrable” IP rights cannot be registered and arise automatically through usage.  However, in both cases, being able to prove that you were the creator of the relevant IP right may be crucial if any intellectual property disputes arise in relation to the validity of the IP right, or its infringement by a third party.

Equally, it may be important in a potential IP dispute to be able to show that you were actively developing the concept or idea before it was fully formed enough to qualify for protection under a registrable or unregistrable IP right.

“Digital fingerprinting” for the development process

With this in mind, The World Intellectual Property Organisation (a specialised agency of the United Nations which is the global forum for IP policy and services) has recently launched a new online “digital fingerprinting” service to help protect designs and innovations from copycat misuse.  The new online business platform, known as WIPO PROOF, is designed to safeguard intellectual assets by creating date-and-time stamped digital fingerprints when information is uploaded to the platform.  Owners of the assets will then receive tamper-proof evidence for every stage of the development cycle, all the way through to commercialisation.

The aim of the new service is to streamline any subsequent litigation that might arise over copyright, design or patent issues, by recording and evidencing each stage of the develoment process.  It is hoped that the platform can be used to protect any intellectual outputs that can be generated in the form of a digital file, meaning that it could protect anything from designs and other creative ideas, through to data training sets for algorithms or research results.  It also enables trade secrets to be recorded, and concepts and ideas to be easily shared without concerns over misuse.

A head-start in any potential litigation

The new WIPO PROOF service could potentially have far reaching effects in relation to the ability to protect IP rights from misuse or misappropriation, by providing a clear audit trial evidencing each stage of the development process.  This would be particularly important where the assets themselves may not yet satisfy the formal requirements for registrable or unregistrable IP rights at a certain stage in that process.

Our increasingly digital world, with its increased collaboration, brings with it a heightened risk that IP rights may be infringed, so any steps that creators can take to protect themselves in the event of potential IP disputes are a good idea.  This new platform could be particularly useful in circumstances where, for example, a concept or idea is not yet sufficiently developed to qualify for any registrable or unregistrable IP rights, but it could nevertheless still be “fingerprinted” before being shared with any third parties for collaboration or further development.

Of course, it remains to be seen how many businesses, developers and creators will make use of WIPO’s new platform, but at least the modest cost (20 Swiss Francs for each WIPO PROOF “fingerprint token”, unless they are bought in bundles) should not act as a barrier to uptake.  For many businesses, making use of the new WIPO PROOF platform could potentially give them a valuable head-start in any subsequent IP dispute or litigation.

For more information on this or any other issue relating to intellectual property disputes, please contact Michael Axe by emailing Michael or by calling him on +44 (0)1628 502448.

This article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article.

Michael Axe

Senior Associate
Commercial Disputes

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