During innovation, inventors, designers and artists will generate a number of ideas, some of which may become the subject of intellectual property rights. Proof of ownership of those ideas and their existence at a certain date and time, regardless of whether they eventually become formal intellectual property rights, can be useful for resolving disputes and preventing misappropriation.
WIPO PROOF is a new system from WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) that can be used to provide affordable tamper proof evidence that a digital file existed at a certain date and time. WIPO’s worldwide recognition should provide credibility when seeking to rely on the evidence provided by WIPO PROOF in legal proceedings.
To use WIPO PROOF, a digital file is used to create a token. The content of the digital file is not uploaded to WIPO and so this remains confidential. Instead, the local browser generates a unique digital fingerprint of the file using a one-way hashing algorithm. The unique digital fingerprint is timestamped and signed by WIPO using a digital signature. WIPO PROOF uses Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) technology which is fully compliant with the RFC 3161 Internet X.509 Public Key Infrastructure Time-Stamp Protocol (TSP) to generate the token. The resulting WIPO PROOF token can then be downloaded and stored together with the original digital file. At any point in time, the token can be uploaded together with the original digital file for verification. To verify the token, the system determines if the hash of the original digital file and the hash contained in the WIPO PROOF token match. If the original digital file has been amended, then the token will not be verified. A certificate confirming the verification can then be requested from WIPO.
This system can be useful for both registered and unregistered intellectual property rights. For example, WIPO PROOF might be of interest for trade secrets where to obtain protection it is important to demonstrate ownership of the confidential information and that steps have been taken to keep the information confidential. In this situation, WIPO PROOF might be relied upon to demonstrate creation and ownership of the confidential information at a certain date and time without compromising confidentiality. Use of WIPO PROOF might also serve as a deterrent against theft or misuse of the confidential information.
WIPO PROOF may be employed to provide evidence of prior user rights. Prior user rights are often used as a defence against patent infringement. In the UK, prior user rights enable a person to continue to carry out infringing acts if the person carried out those same infringing acts or serious and effective preparation to do such acts before the priority date of the patent. A verified WIPO PROOF token can provide time and date stamped evidence of such acts or preparations and may be used as evidence of prior user rights.
Copyright is another area of intellectual property where this new system may be of use. There is typically no formal registration for copyright but proof of existence is required. Unregistered design rights can also benefit from WIPO PROOF. Unregistered design rights exist automatically on creation of a design in some circumstances. WIPO PROOF could be used to prove ownership of a design and its creation date. Sensitive documents such as NDAs, licenses and supporting evidence can also be time and date stamped using this new system without compromising their confidentiality.
While WIPO PROOF does not itself form an IP right, its ability to show that an IP right existed at a certain point in time can be used by rights holders to bridge the gap in protection between conception and the filing of registered IP rights such that innovation can be protected at all stages of development.