Last summer I talked about blockchain in a series of interviews here and, for the past couple of months, we have been running a series on startup issues. As discussed many times, the foundation of most companies’ value is their intellectual property (IP). Dominik Thor reached out to discuss his project, Vaultitude which uses Blockchain as a “notary-like” tool for IP protection. The project started last summer and the platform is being developed by IPCORP Ltd, a software company based in Gibraltar.
Mary: What problem are you solving?
Dominik: Protecting IP in all its forms can be highly complex and many innovators cannot help but feel overwhelmed with that challenge. Worldwide, IP includes everything ranging from inventions and scientific findings to all types of artistic work, including but not limited to code, text, photos, music, 3D work, and designs. It further includes an abundance of trade secrets, confidential information, strategies, files and documents.
Vaultitude was developed with the support of leading stakeholders and decision makers from the IP industry and uses distributed ledger technology, or Blockchain, for protection of IP and to complement traditional IP management strategies. Already, the most important stakeholders in IP consider Blockchain technology a potential game changer for the industry due to its notary-like character that affords proof in form of timestamps. We are creating a browser-based software, which provides users with a clear overview of their IP and allows solving previously complex issues such as secure storage, proof of authorship suitable for legal proceedings, the safe and easy exchange of confidential information by placing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) on the Blockchain and a marketplace for the risk-free selling and licensing of IP.
Mary: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Dominik: Vaultitude has been designed to meet the needs of researchers, artists, inventors and companies. Universities may use it to ensure that researchers can protect their findings, artists will receive proof for the actual application of their copyrights and companies can be assured that confidential data is safely stored and any access to it by third parties is protected through NDAs. Patent offices may use Vaultitude for their prior art searches.
Vaultitude has established a number of partnerships with organizations in the IP sector, which represent various user groups. We talked to leading universities, big innovative technology companies, associations of researchers and engineers such as MCAA or IEEE, who have hundreds of thousands of members, global law firms and many leading patent offices. This allows us to get early feedback and tailor our services to the actual needs of innovators as well as help with the adoption of the software once it gets released in the second half of 2018.
Mary: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Dominik: Actually the idea for Vaultitude was born while working on another project in the field of biotechnology. That company works closely with leading universities and focuses on the modulation of cellular signaling pathways for tissue regeneration. The research efforts ultimately produced a number of interesting findings, which allowed for commercialization and/or represented basic science to be published in leading journals. Thus we experienced how complex, and sometimes inefficient, the protection of IP can be and started looking into how Blockchain technology can help with overcoming the challenges experienced by millions of innovators on a daily basis.
Mary: Who is on your team?
Dominik: Our team has a versatile background and consists of a number of innovators and researchers with strong experience in IP, research, technology and financial markets. We are grateful to also have an advisory board consisting of leading industry experts and IP professionals, among them two former directors of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), as well as university technology transfer managers, managers of pharmaceutical companies, research organizations like MCAA (representing more than 11,000 European researchers) and even computer gaming studio executives.
Mary: Did you raise money?
Dominik: We want to offer IP protection at a moderate price and Vaultitude will allow users to pay with special tokens, comparable to the credits used by many stock photo databases. These will become available during the official token sale starting end of September, right after we released a first version of Vaultitude. That token sale will be the main source for funding future development and ongoing business activities. Our funding up to this point comes from private sources.
Mary: Startups are an adventure– what’s your favorite startup story?
Dominik: Back when we were first looking into Blockchain as a solution for IP protection we assumed that some companies already have such an offering. But because we could not identify any such company we reached out to WIPO, thinking that they will surely know. Next thing that happened was an invitation to the WIPO HQ in Geneva, an impressive building that reminded you that this is a United Nations agency, and the chance to chat with Assistant General Director Yo Takagi, who offered both advice and friendly support. We ended up forming an official partnership with WIPO Green, their technology division and started developing what has now become Vaultitude.
Mary: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Dominik: At this early stage we consider the great amount of attention that we get from the IP sector as our biggest success. Vaultitude is already being presented at EUIPO (European Intellectual Property Office), EPO (European Patent Offices), WIPO, LESI, IEEE and WTO (World Trade Organisation) conferences all around the globe and we are talking to leading patent offices and some of the biggest international law firms. Even CNBC has reached out to us and will be broadcasting a special on Vaultitude, which to them represents a great new use case of Blockchain technology, in September.
Mary: And of course, any IP horror stories to share (they can be anonymous)?
Dominik: Since we started our project we had many private inventors and artist reaching out to us, telling us about losing the rights to their own work as a result of either not being aware of having to protect it or how to protect it properly. Some were disheartened by the costs and complexity of it, which led them to not seek protection and ultimately that cost them dearly. But we also have had our own problems. Back when we started out we chose a different name for the project (IPCHAIN) and soon were facing a number of copycats which ultimately led us to switch to Vaultitude, which is much less generic and fully trademark protected.
Mary: What’s the long-term vision for your company?
Dominik: By introducing Blockchain technology to the world of IP and offering a holistic tool that protects all stages in the innovation cycle, from inception to eventual sale, we think we can offer a powerful new tool to the tens of millions of innovators around the world. We are thrilled to integrate even more ideas with the help of our partners and advisors in the future and want to become an integral part of this market. Ultimately Vaultitude will make IP protection easier, faster, more secure and less expensive.
Any tips to add for early-stage founders?
Dominik: Be realistic and ask yourself the tough questions before starting out. But once you are certain that your idea has what it takes to succeed, do not let criticism by others shatter your confidence. Chances are they spent a lot less time thinking about your project than you have.
We are developing a new series on intellectual property (IP) issues and are looking for companies that have had either success or experienced challenges with their IP.