14th Jun 2016

​Solution in search of an application – Blockchain

I’m fresh out of the International Federation of Computer Law Association’s conference last week, and the word of the week was blockchain. Or Blockchain. Or the blockchain. It’s not new – blockchain was first posited in 2008 by the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, and is the foundation of the cryptocurrency bitcoin (and of other virtual currencies). Blockchain comprises distributed code ledgers which are aggregated and verified, and protected by private and public key encryption. As well as being used for currency purposes, blockchain can be used for “smart” contractual transactions. Other uses are being explored and developed.

However – whilst there are developing applications, for now this is a tech solution without its breakthrough application. Lawyers are talking about it without necessarily having a full understanding of it (and that’s very few lawyers, in this niche area we inhabit). Largely it’s in theory – very few admitted to having any bitcoin, or using blockchain in any way, and it’s probably true to say that even for we tech layers, it’s at the edge of our conceptual understanding.

And why should it be more – the world wide web didn’t take off because the world understood the technology – it took off because of what it delivered. The law helps in understanding the ownership issues and transactional concepts, and can help in analysis of aspects such as the offences which might or might not be committed in a “theft”, creating or mining of a cryptocurrency.

So in two years, or five years, will blockchain be a commonplace concept, powering valuable applications? Or another question – are we wasting our time?

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