Decentralized Patent System

51 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2019

See all articles by Lital Helman

Lital Helman

Ono Academic College Faculty of Law; Columbia Law School

Date Written: September 3, 2019


The patent system features a centralized structure almost from end to end. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) possesses power to examine inventions, publish patents, and increasingly manage post-examination proceedings. The centralized nature of the patent system leads to well-known inefficiencies, including production problems, low quality patents, and information inefficiencies. Yet, despite intense criticism, and even proposals to ‘demonopolize’ the agency, the PTO’s dominance persists, and has in fact increased with the recent enactment of the America Invents Act (AIA).

This Article considers an alternative, decentralized, patent system. Harnessing new developments in database technology, I propose that inventors would submit patent applications to a shared patent record instead of to the PTO. After a grace period, in which inventions would remain secret, the record would open to the public and the patent examination process would ensue. Following the examination, granted patents would be published to the record. During the examination process and throughout the lifetime of the patent, industry and state actors would be able to dynamically update the record. For example, third parties would be able to submit prior art, scientists — to weigh in on obviousness, patentees — to offer licenses, and courts — to list decisions and outstanding cases that pertain to the patent.

A decentralized patent model fosters a participatory and dynamic patent record and promises to transform the record into a central tool in the innovation economy. This strategy would yield several key benefits. First, it would boost the quality of patent examination and improve productivity, by allowing knowledgeable parties to shoulder some of the tasks that examiners now perform alone. Second, it would spur innovation by advancing information on new inventions, and reduce waste by preventing a race for patents that have already been filed. Third, it would allow inventors to avoid innocently infringing patents that are strategically held by ‘patent trolls,’ tackling one of the most troubling issues in patent law. Finally, decentralization would facilitate patent licensing, thus driving the adoption of new inventions in the market. Improved licensing forecasts would also produce a dynamic effect: increasing the potential reward of patents ex post, thus boosting the incentive to invent ex ante.

Keywords: patents, PTO, blockchain

Suggested Citation

Helman, Lital, Decentralized Patent System (September 3, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Lital Helman (Contact Author)

Ono Academic College Faculty of Law ( email )

104 Zahal St.
Kiryat Ono, 55000

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States
(212) 854-5189 (Phone)

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