The Crypto Open Patent Alliance (COPA) is a prominent (and possibly the only) defensive Crypto patent alliance. COPA advertises that it was “formed to encourage the adoption and advancement of cryptocurrency technologies and to remove patents as a barrier to growth and innovation.” COPA has at least 34 known members, including a few large U.S.-based crypto companies. COPA scored its largest member earlier this year when Meta joined and was given a seat on the board. Despite COPA’s preeminence in this space, it does not yet boast any of the most active entities in filing blockchain patents as a member.
We previously wrote there has been limited patent litigation in this technology space, particularly given the number of patents issuing related to the technology. COPA’s goal appears to be to limit the assertion of patents in the Crypto technology space, with its members pledging not to use any of their so-called “Crypto Patents” offensively. COPA’s Membership Agreement defines these covered Crypto Patents as any patents related to “cryptocurrencies,” but does not appear to cover all applications of blockchain-based technologies.
Under the COPA Membership Agreement, members can still assert their Crypto Patents under certain circumstances. For example, members can freely use their Crypto Patents in self-defense against another entity asserting any of their patents against the member (regardless of whether they are Crypto Patents). Members may also use their Crypto Patents in defense of others in the Crypto community who are attacked by “patent aggressors.” Finally, members can still assert their Crypto Patents against those that they deem to be an “impersonator” and who is selling knockoff products that are causing harm to the member’s customers.
COPA also provides a “Shared Patent Library” that its members can use if they are sued for patent infringement. Currently, there is no indication that anyone has used any of the patents in this shared library, which is understandable as there has been very little patent litigation in Crypto. We were unable to find any public information on how many, and which, patents were included in the Shared Patent Library.
The Real Satoshi Nakamoto
One interesting fact about COPA is that it embroiled itself in litigation revolving around one of the most enduring mysteries of Crypto, namely, who is the famed “Satoshi Nakamoto.” Dr. Craig Wright, an Australian computer scientist and founder of the Crypto company nChain, asserted that he is the famed author and that, as such, he owns the copyright to the original white paper on Bitcoin (referred to as the “Bitcoin White Paper”). Wright filed a copyright registration claiming the right to the Bitcoin White Paper and related source code in 2019. Notably, Wright has been promoting a version of Bitcoin as canonical to the original vision of the Bitcoin White Paper, the Bitcoin Satoshi Vision, or “BSV.”
After filing the copyright registration, Wright sent out copyright infringement notices to some that were hosting the Bitcoin White Paper. In particular, Wright seems to have targeted Crypto companies and currencies that use the Bitcoin name but that did not strictly adhere to the vision of Bitcoin included in the white paper. These entities were sent letters in accordance with the Pre-Action Protocol for intellectual property claims under English law. Wright also apparently sent in 2021 a cease and desist letter to the COPA member Square (now known as Block), also demanding that it take down the Bitcoin White Paper from its website.
Around the time that Wright started sending these letters, COPA decided that it would host the Bitcoin White Paper on its website. COPA then sued Wright in the U.K. High Court, demanding that Wright prove that he is Satoshi or for the court to declare that he does not have copyright ownership over the Bitcoin White Paper. In its complaint, COPA claims that Wright is not, in fact, Satoshi and seeks a declaration that Wright is not the author of the Bitcoin White Paper. To make their case, COPA plead that Wright had the opportunity to provide definitive evidence that he is Satoshi on multiple occasions, but he failed to do so. COPA further alleges that Wright when tried to put forth evidence that he is Satoshi, the evidence was incapable of establishing his claim.
A case management conference had been scheduled in the case, but attorneys for COPA requested that the presiding deputy master recuse himself because he had allegedly acted for Wright’s nChain company in the past. Both parties have also been admonished for behaving in an ultra-aggressive and uncooperative way toward each other, which the court did not believe was conducive to efficient litigation. The already slow-moving case has now ground to a halt, with the case management conference rescheduled for Sept. 1, 2022, and trial pushed all the way until early 2024. This has all been a bit frustrating for those seeking more definitive evidence and a conclusion on whether Wright actually is Satoshi, as he claims.