The challenges of authentication to protect creativity at source

Innovation, creativity and its expression are fundamental levers for a country's scientific, industrial, cultural and economic success. It is essential to give inventors the confidence to protect creativity at source. Certifying the authenticity of a new idea, or of the person who came up with it, is essential if we are to make our ebullient age of inventors fairer.

Michel Robert, University of Montpellier and Jean Sallantin, University of Montpellier

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The technical challenge is to propose a simplified idea registration solution with the legal capacity to protect budding or established innovators, and which can be rapidly deployed on a national scale, while respecting the need for secrecy: only the registrant can see it; and transparency: it is partially revealed so that good ideas can be revealed when confronted with other ideas. An economic and societal challenge would be to manage the multiplication of individual acts of creativity as the source of the emergence of ideas on a local scale that are equal to the challenges posed in particular by climate disruption and damage to biodiversity.

Creativity is poorly protected

In the academic world, the recognition of risk-taking and creativity in the evaluation of researchers deserves to be based on recognized practical recording formats that go beyond the current overly limited and sometimes inappropriate framework - such as patent registration - for measuring the impact of a research project.

The protection of students' and PhD students' research work in laboratories is also a regular issue, with unfortunate cases of their work being exploited in ways that exclude them from scientific publications, for example. There are, however, protective measures in place in doctoral schools and laboratories, such as the "laboratory notebook", which keeps a chronological record of work carried out, but this type of measure is not easily adaptable to all scientific disciplines.

In today's digital society, with its interconnected objects and new uses (video games, etc.), talented students - even high-school students - are increasingly being spotted outside the usual research laboratory circuits. Universities and schools play a role in supporting them in the various technical, scientific and pedagogical aspects (cf. innovation competitions), but could also play a role in protecting the concepts they develop.

The question of maintaining creative wealth also arises for start-ups, which in essence embody the values of innovation and creativity, but with low survival rates; this raises the question of personal protection of inventors' intellectual property; and the question of valuing what is unfortunately left in boxes after one or two years' work on a project!

So how can we support, promote and guarantee the authentication of creativity in such a strategic context? How can we develop an ecosystem that protects all contributors of new ideas?

How can we democratize the protection of creativity?

There are, of course, mechanisms for preserving traces of innovation, such as patent registration or the Soleau envelope, but they are too expensive, too complex, not well known and, above all, they intervene too late and unsystematically in the value chain. So we need to create a whole ecosystem dedicated to defending creativity, but above all to collecting, inventorying and valorizing it.

To meet these challenges, we propose to set up a platform that is easy to use, accessible to all, visible and recognized, in charge of defending registered ideas, but also responsible for promoting them.

  • The challenge for society is to create an ecosystem to protect and promote innovation throughout France.
  • The economic challenge is to establish trust between the project owners and the various stakeholders.
  • The technical challenge is to create an efficient, secure IT system that is physically distributed across the territory.

The simple idea here is to make protected ideas available on the Internet, as they are authenticated by notaries who are specialists in the authentication of all kinds of deeds. Ideally, this public service would be free of charge, to encourage the dissemination of ideas that the bearers would like to make public, and to ensure the deposit of ideas that the bearers would like to keep secret for the time being, so that they can choose when to disseminate them. It would also enable editorialists to bring the platform's content to life, by organizing dynamic indexing of the ideas generated by the debates they provoke.

Debating ideas is the best way to advance knowledge for all, and to help ideas themselves evolve. This is why we need to give creators the ability to protect their ideas when they are being debated, i.e. even before copyright management or patent registration of an invention in which they are involved. Protection must be "at source", immediate and easily accessible.

To achieve this, we need to be able to provide the technological guarantee most likely to secure end-users, so that every scrap of their innovations deposited on the platform is inalienably linked to their identity, while at the same time enabling them to showcase their advances. This is now possible thanks to a blockchain-based approach. The idea is to give notaries the task of authenticating and protecting holders' ideas and securing their relationships, while promoting the development of these ideas. Their role as authenticators will stimulate the process and guarantee the certification of transactions. Notaries already have a secure, shared, distributed IT infrastructure for drafting and archiving deeds. Notaries receive deeds, some of which are unilateral (authentic wills). By receiving the deposit, the notary helps to combat fraud or identity theft, and gives the depositor and third parties the assurance of the deposit and its date; the blockchain, for its part, secures the file, its durability and its consultation.

Towards an authentication loop for creativity

It is in this context that a prototype of an authentication loop for creativity was created for the Lyon regional council of notaries, based on the Hyperledger tool.

Creativity authentication chain.
Provided by the author

The idea authentication procedure is organized around several players:

  • Project owners who will benefit from the idea protection registration service to enhance the value of their work;
  • Contributors, who are the people and institutions in contact with project developers (such as universities, engineering schools, incubators, etc.) who will offer project developers the opportunity to submit their ideas and work;
  • The validators, who are the notaries who will use their legitimacy to register the ideas of project owners in the blockchain;
  • Editorialists whose job it is to publicize ideas via a communication strategy. These editors could be private or public agencies seeking to generate new projects, or third-party venues promoting the creativity present in their territory.
  • Manufacturers, who will have premium access to the catalog of ideas to request direct contact with project leaders.

A virtuous, pragmatic new ecosystem

In essence, blockchain technology, with its cryptographic and data/transaction distribution principles, lends itself ideally to the subject of time-stamping, traceability and immutability. On a subject as critical as protecting innovation, it provides a major technological guarantee to protect the interests of project sponsors and avoid any conflict of interest. Nevertheless, it remains no more than a facilitator, and for adoption to take place, it is essential that this mission be carried out by players who see it as being in the interests of both society and the economy. The founding idea is therefore to offer a blockchain platform that simply meets the immediate needs of the various players involved in innovation.

1) For project sponsors who are technically unable to protect an innovation, the platform provides a simple, easily accessible digital innovation protection procedure.

2) For those who are unaware of the means of protection available to them, or who lack interest in protecting their ideas, they will meet with an editorial team who, together with the notary network, are in charge of producing a simplified catalog of innovations that will serve to establish a relationship between project initiators and potential industrial partners.

3) With a survival rate of less than 20%, all the innovation of a young structure, lost as soon as it disappears, would be highlighted as protected innovations in a simplified catalog available to industrial partners.

4) Faced with a structure's difficulty in innovating and its constant need to acquire talent or new ideas, there would be direct access to a simplified and anonymous catalog of innovation, with the possibility of being put in direct contact with project leaders.

5) Notaries are faced with a general lack of awareness of the societal benefits of their profession. As moral and legal guarantors of a scheme aimed at a broad, younger audience, notaries could promote their mission to protect innovation and creativity, simply and to the greatest possible number of people.

Based on these concepts, and a prototype that can easily be produced today using blockchain technology, we can imagine a simplified, dematerialized filing system to encourage innovators' creativity at source. Deployment in a public setting with the notarial profession would enable the rapid nationwide introduction of new, responsible practices that promote creativity.

This article was co-written with Denis Pierre Simon, notary (honorary president of the Lyon regional council of notaries) and Nicolas Herzog (blockchain development expert).The Conversation

Michel Robert, Professor of Microelectronics, University of Montpellier and Jean Sallantin, Emeritus Research Director, CNRS, University of Montpellier

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.