Have you ever needed to prove to someone that you created a document at a specific time and that it has not been altered since then? It is not always easy to do. For years, scientists have been trained to keep all of their research notes in handwritten hard cover bound notebooks, in case they ever have to demonstrate exactly when a discovery was made, who worked on the project, and how the research and development evolved. No doubt, billions of hardcover books filled with notes are gathering dust in document storage rooms around the world. In the digital age, documents, records and data are stored electronically on computers, disk drives and cloud storage servers. We have much greater flexibility and storage capacity, but the downside is that we need to keep track of more data in more different places, particularly if researchers are working cooperatively but in different physical locations. The task of proving the creation and integrity of work products can become complicated quickly.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has recently launched WIPO PROOF; a new online business service, that provides tamper-proof evidence of the existence at a point in time of any digital file, and that it has not been altered since that time. The tool can be used to strategically manage files and data including creative works, research results, data sets for training AI algorithms, business records and signed contracts.
WIPO does not read the file’s contents or store a copy of it. WIPO PROOF is a secure, one-way algorithm that interacts locally with the requestor’s browser to create a unique digital fingerprint for digital files of any size, in any format, whether they are numeric, image, executable, text or audio-visual. WIPO PROOF generates a token – a unique fingerprint of the digital file, dated and timestamped the second it is created. The data owner receives the token and another copy is stored securely on WIPO servers in Switzerland. Anyone - even third parties - can validate the WIPO PROOF tokens on the WIPO website to confirm the existence of the file and its date and timestamp. Use of a management tool like this can help prevent misuse and misappropriation of files, and can be used in resolving legal disputes.
For example, copyright arises automatically when a person creates a work such as art, music, lyrics, software, and textile designs. It is not necessary to file an application to register copyright in order to gain this protection. However, if there is a dispute about the work, the creator will need to provide solid evidence of his/her creation of the work. It has been common practice for authors to seal a copy of their work and mail it to themselves by registered mail to demonstrate that the work existed at a specific point in time and was under the creator’s control (“poor man’s copyright”). The WIPO PROOF tool is the digital equivalent of poor man’s copyright.
Trade secrets such as recipes, formulas, business plans, manufacturing processes etc. can all be protected by law if they have economic value and the owner taken steps to protect them against public disclosure or misappropriation. In practice, the trade secret owner would have to prove the existence and use of the trade secret in order to seek an seek an injunction or claim damages. It can be difficult to prove the existence of something that has always been secret. A tool like WIPO PROOF can provide the necessary proof of existence, and can also discourage theft or tampering with a protected file.
No doubt, there are many other applications for a tool of this type. Further information on WIPO PROOF is available through this hyperlink https://wipoproof.wipo.int/wdts/. Ballagh & Edward LLP is not affiliated with WIPO PROOF in any way and receives no compensation if a person subscribes to the service after reading this article.