By Peter Colin and Marc Jacobson
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) revealed a new global online business service, WIPO PROOF (https://wipoproof.wipo.int/wdts/verify/uploadtimestamp.xhtml), to create evidentiary records of intellectual assets that don't themselves qualify as protectable intellectual property (IP).
The idea is the service is digitally time-stamping (https://citeseer.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.46.8740&rank=1) files of ideas, sketches, know-how or data sets to prove they existed in a specific form at a specific date and time. Similar to sending a certified letter of the IP to oneself, and not opening the letter, or getting documentation notarized, WIPO PROOF is designed to serve the same evidentiary purposes for digital records of created content. WIPO posits (https://wipoproof.wipo.int/wdts/use-cases.xhtml) that if a dispute calls into question issues of authorship or existence of creative elements, the created content's "digital fingerprint" WIPO PROOF generates via tokenization (https://www.tokenex.com/resource-center/what-is-tokenization) could be used to establish proof of existence and prevent misuse, misappropriation or fraud. It does not replace any IP registration systems, but in jurisdictions that may recognize digital timestamping as legal proof of existence, such as contracting states to WIPO-administered treaties like the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) (https://www.wipo.int/pct/en/pct_contracting_states.html), Madrid Union (https://www.wipo.int/madrid/en/members/), and the Hague Agreement (https://www.wipo.int/treaties/en/registration/hague/), WIPO PROOF tokens can be used to prove that a digital file existed on a given date and time, in a specific version, possessed by the party who requested the WIPO PRROF token. The tokens are digital assets created via cryptography (https://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/definition/cryptography) that represent the timestamping of the protected asset. The tokens themselves are not IP protections.
Each token costs 20 CHF, or roughly $21 USD. Premium certificates, PDFs confirming a token's validation signed and stamped by WIPO, can also be requested for the same price, although not necessary to the WIPO PROOF verification system (https://wipoproof.wipo.int/wdts/how-it-works.xhtml). WIPO PROOF tokens do not expire, but are kept on WIPO's servers for five years and are renewable for terms of five years after the initial term. In order to use WIPO PROOF, one must creat a WIPO account. WIPO account holders will then connect to the WIPO PROOF web application to request a token and pay for it (and the premium certificate if desired). The user will be prompted to identify the files to be protected. A one-way (meaning not reversable) hashing algorithm (https://cheapsslsecurity.com/blog/decoded-examples-of-how-hashing-algorithms-work/) will generate a unique digital fingerprint of the file, also known as a hash. Only the hash of the digital file is uploaded to WIPO PROOF, and not the underlying file itself. WIPO PROOF does not read or store files. That hash is timestamped by WIPO PROOF's eIDAS-compliant backend system (https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/discover-eidas), is signed with a private key (https://ee.stanford.edu/~hellman/publications/31.pdf) stored in WIPO's Hardware Security Module (HSM) in Switzerland, and a public key is added to the digital signature. This results in a downloadable WIPO PROOF token that represents the existence of the files at the point in time when the token was created. The public key included in the tokens can be used to verify (https://wipoproof.wipo.int/wdts/verify/uploadtimestamp.xhtml) the token with the private key stored in the HSM.
The token becomes invalid if the original file is modified in any way, including formatting changes, as it is the record of an exact specific file. Changing the font or punctuation in the underlying file changes the file's properties and metadata, and the token will no longer match. The hash created by WIPO PROOF's one-way algorithm cannot recreate or read the files it processes; cryptography (algorithms and code used to encrypt data) is used to ensure confidentiality (https://www.zoomtute.com/content/blogs/16/cryptography-is-an-way-of-achieving-data-confidentiality-dot#:~:text=Cryptography%3A%20Cryptography%20is%20a%20method,can%20read%20and%20process%20it.) by encrypting its processing of the document and generating public and private keys.
WIPO PROOF uses Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) (https://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2020/article_0012.html#:~:text=WIPO%20PROOF%20uses%20Public%20Key,and%20recognized%20digital%20certification%20methods.) technology with the WIPO's centralized HSM, rather than a blockchain-based platform (https://www.legalexecutiveinstitute.com/forum-magazine-blockchain-promise/) of cryptographically recording tokenized assets. WIPO noted that this was due to anonymity concerns and that distributed public blockchains are "not yet widely guaranteed in courts," (https://wipoproof.wipo.int/wdts/faqs.xhtml) although WIPO is considering an additional and optional blockchain component to WIPO PROOF's current PKI-based service. As a Time Stamping Authority, WIPO PROOF's technical infrastructure conforms to European eIDAS regulations and the Internet Engineering Task Force RFC 3161 protocol.
The WIPO PROOF website suggests that WIPO PROOF's use cases are as additional elements of IP management strategy and as a complement of existing IP systems and safeguards, regardless of whether the protected assets become protectible IP. The World Trademark Review reported (https://www.worldtrademarkreview.com/enforcement-and-litigation/wipo-launches-digital-fingerprint-service-how-will-it-help-trademark) on a WIPO spokesman, who said that WIPO PROOF "can help oppose a trademark application or invalidate a trademark by providing prior use", since WIPO PROOF can prove "preparatory works which are used in the creation and application of a trademark." The WIPO PROOF website (https://wipoproof.wipo.int/wdts/use-cases.xhtml) also suggests that the token can track individual contributions of collaborative products, such as research and data sets, music and film content, computer code, and trade secrets. Frances Gurry, WIPO Executive Director, suggested this can be useful for situations like verifying ownership or raising capital (https://www.wipo.int/pressroom/en/articles/2020/article_0012.html) and that WIPO PROOF as an international certificate could be preferable in cross-border disputes when the relationship between countries is an issue.