Are any known threats related to Bitcoin intellectual property?

(While unlikely, I guess one long shot threat is that one or more governments would ban the use of the technology.)


2 Answers 2


According to our good friend Wikipedia (my emphasis):

Intellectual property (IP) is a term referring to a number of distinct types of creations of the mind for which a set of exclusive rights are recognized—and the corresponding fields of law.1 Under intellectual property law, owners are granted certain exclusive rights to a variety of intangible assets, such as musical, literary, and artistic works; discoveries and inventions; and words, phrases, symbols, and designs. Common types of intellectual property rights include copyrights, trademarks, patents, industrial design rights and trade secrets in some jurisdictions.

So to attack Bitcoin you'd need to produce evidence that someone else got there first, or that Bitcoin is mis-using an existing technology beyond it's remit (breaking terms of a license for example).

This would be hard given the unique nature of Bitcoin, the open source license it was released under (MIT - a very permissive license) and the well-established cryptographic protocols and algorithms it uses (SHA-256, RIPEMD-160, elliptic curve DSA) all of which are taken from worldwide standards (think IEEE, ISO, FIPS etc).

However, I am not a lawyer, and the law varies across the world. It may be possible through some convoluted mechanism to attack it and lay claim to a patent of some kind, but it would take obvious collusion on behalf of the respective court of law to ratify it which may serve to discredit the attacker.

  • 1
    +1 @Gary Rowe: For the "our good friend Wikipedia" line... :-) ...one thing I've wondered is how if the creator of Bitcoin is unknown, how is it under a open source license. Clearly beyond the scope of the question, but just one of the oddities I've pondered. (I am not a lawyer either, though I play one in real life.)
    – blunders
    Sep 25, 2011 at 1:21
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    @blunders An interesting point. Note that the Satoshi paper does not contain a copyright notice, therefore it is public domain. However, the official "Satoshi" client on gitHub (github.com/bitcoin/bitcoin) does contain several copyright notices. From this, I'd say that anyone can implement Bitcoin from the Satoshi paper, and the specific reference client is licensed as open source by a variety of developers.
    – Gary
    Sep 26, 2011 at 12:49
  • +1 @Gary Rowe: In the US, it's my understanding that a copyright is given on creation, and submissions to the US GOV only makes it easier to defined a claim.
    – blunders
    Sep 27, 2011 at 1:52

If history is any guide, it is more likely that bitcoin would itself be tied to "theft" of intellectual property as an enabling technology which should be "regulated." Of course, there are many other ways to accomplish the same thing. So the main non-legislative threat, even greater than technological attacks by well-financed parties, remains that posed by the manipulation of public opinion. This is particularly effective in the United States, where the public has been very effectively conditioned to be easily swayed by fear.


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