Retail giant Walmart has just filed a patent for blockchain-enabled drone deliveries in which drones can exchange key information via a blockchain to verify the identities of other drones and pass packages off to one another. Information can be exchanged by drones on the system using RFID, QR codes, and ultrasound technology. The drones can also be outfitted with additional, optional features that can be used to identify themselves to other drones within an ecosystem.
Walmart’s Attempt At Trustworthy Drone Deliveries
Walmart has referred to the patent filing as an attempt to establish the trustworthiness of a drone delivery system. A blockchain system might reduce the risk of passing a package off to a fraudulent drone that can spoof authentication data to subsequently steal the payload, for instance.
The filing describes security measures in its blockchain system as consisting of “a plurality of nodes configured to generate computational proof of record integrity and the chronological order of its use for content, trade, and/or as a currency of exchange through a peer-to-peer network… Each node works on finding a difficult proof-of-work for its bloc.”
Walmart has also filed patents for blockchain-based systems for the management of smart appliances and an improved package tracking process.
Patents on Blockchain Applications Can Be Controversial
Although blockchain-related patents filed by legacy market firms are often seen as a positive sign, intellectual property law in its current state has also been criticized by the blockchain and cryptocurrency community, as some pessimists are concerned that patents are filed in malintent as firms may be seeking to establish a monopoly over innovative blockchain solutions.
For instance, Roger Ver recently posted a tweet calling patents “an illegitimate government granted monopoly,” a statement that may have contributed to Craig Wright’s decision to block him on Twitter. As for those are unaware, Craig Wright is known to hold patents related to cryptocurrency and blockchain.
The criticisms placed on Walmart and other retailers for filing blockchain-related patents that were not of their own invention may be justified, as these traditional firms can hire the best attorneys. Those attorneys can then use their knowledge of the law to crush startups that aim to develop and use applications similar to the ones described in already-filed patents.
Unfortunately, there is very little incentive for lawmakers to reform patent law so that it cannot be abused by large traditional corporations, such as Walmart and unnamed patent trolls who effectively make a living by suing anyone who accidentally encroaches on technology similar to that described in patents they are owners of.
This can quickly become a net negative for the blockchain industry and cryptocurrency markets. Investors may hesitate to put their money in tokens issued by startups that fundraised via an ICO if they know that those startups may not enter a major market in which another company already holds a patent for the blockchain application they use. Essentially, Walmart has the potential to hurt the entire industry by filing patents for applications like drone delivery.