Part II: Blockchain Beyond Bitcoin

Bitcoin

As part two of our three part series on blockchain technology, we will provide an overview of the many different applications of blockchain and how it will change a variety of industries.  As discussed in our first article, blockchain technology moves far beyond its implementation in Bitcoin digital currency and has the potential to remove middlemen, reduce transaction costs, and make the analysis of data more efficient across a wide variety of industries and applications.

Entertainment and Intellectual Property

Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize the way artists get paid and intellectual property is enforced in the entertainment industry.  The consumption of media, from television shows to video games and music, can be embedded with blockchain technology so content creators are paid, advertisers have accurate consumption information, and piracy is eliminated.  Entertainment executives, along with several artists, such as Imogen Heap, which recently released the first song with blockchain technology built-in, imagine a blockchain system where digital rights are centrally maintained, where creative works can be stored, and consumption tracked.  The building blocks for such a system already exists as more and more entertainment is consumed digitally, and artist societies such as ASCAP, SACEM, and PRS have recently begun blockchain initiatives to improve data accuracy for creative rightsholders.

Energy

Blockchain technology has the potential to further upend energy markets, as smaller, green energy projects, such as roof-mounted solar panels or small wind farms, aim to use blockchain sell energy to their neighbors without going through a middleman-power company.  Companies such as Electron in the United Kingdom and Power Ledger in Australia are working to implement peer-to-peer energy trading markets, underpinned with blockchain technology, where individuals can buy and sell centricity within “microgrids,” or specific geographic regions.  This development could be revolutionary as large, capital intensive electric utilities the world-over are already suffering from the democratization of energy generation through home solar installations.  Allowing the efficient tracking of consumption, and efficient transfer of energy on a peer-to-peer level could completely change the way electricity is generated and consumed.

Retail and Inventory Tracking

Walmart and other large retailers are working to deploy blockchain to manage their international procurement inventory operations.  Blockchain can be used to create a centralized digital ledger to track a product from the moment its manufactured overseas, to its shipping, warehousing, stocking on a store shelf, and ultimate sale.  Such a system has the potential to reduce costs for cross-border transactions, and could eliminate the use of letters of credit and other trade financing instruments.  Moreover, just-in-time manufacturing will only be made more efficient, as manufacturers will have access to troves of new data about the transfer of goods through supply channels.

Maintenance Schedules of Automobiles, Other Machinery

Blockchain technology may eventually be embedded in every automobile or other large piece of machinery that is ever manufactured to track maintenance schedules and performance.  For example, proponents of the technology envision an era where automobile maintenance is tracked in a centralized ledger, and each automobile automatically updates the blockchain upon every oil change, part replacement, or error code that is generated.  Automobile manufacturers will be able to track in real time the performance of their products, finance companies will be able to verify if their collateral is being appropriately maintained, and buyers of used automobiles will be able to know with 100% certainty the history of the vehicle they are buying.

Luxury Goods and Collectibles

As global counterfeiting runs rampant, luxury goods companies are beginning to explore using blockchain technology to reassure customers they are getting the real thing (while protecting companies’ valuable brand equity).  Purveyors of luxury goods are establishing centralized ledgers to track the manufacture, sale and ownership of luxury goods.  Companies are exploring different ways that blockchain could be embedded in items, such as a Gucci purse or a piece of fine art, that would allow someone to verify its authenticity.  Such transparency could invigorate secondary markets for such goods, as buyer will be able to trust the authenticity of otherwise questionable goods they are purchasing.

Finance and Lending

As you can see, there are an endless number of ways blockchain can be implemented across a vast number of industries.  Despite the potentially disruptive applications discussed above, the finance industry faces the biggest revolution as a result of the implementation of blockchain technology.  As we will discuss more in depth in our part three of this series of articles, the financial industry, from borrowing money to raising capital, and any legal documentation relating to the same, will be irreversibly impacted by blockchain technology.

Wesley King, Attorney at Law

By Wesley King
Associate at Frandzel Robins Bloom & Csato, L.C.

The Coming Blockchain Revolution

Bitcoin

While Bitcoin may be a bubble or passing fad, the technology behind it will revolutionize the way we do business in the near future

Part I:  What is Blockchain?

While Bitcoin became a household name in 2017, most people know little of the technology underpinning the digital currency.  This technology, known as “blockchain,” has far reaching implications beyond digital currency, and will likely revolutionize the way we do business in the near future.  In a 2017 study conducted by Gartner, Inc., it estimates that the business value-add of blockchain will grow to slightly more than $176 billion by 2025, and will likely exceed $3.1 trillion by 2030.  In fact, a World Economic Forum report from September 2015 predicts that by 2025, ten percent of global GDP will be stored on blockchain technology.

In a January, 2017 Harvard Business Review Article titled “The Truth About Blockchain,” professors Marco Iansiti and Karim R. Lakhani describe blockchain as a foundational technology that may not immediately overtake our traditional business models, but has the potential to create new economic and social systems and enormously change the way we transact over the coming decades.  Moreover, companies already see the writing on the wall – IBM, Microsoft and Intel are offering blockchain software tools to their business customers, Goldman Sachs, Nasdaq, Walmart, Visa and the State of Delaware all have started blockchain initiatives.

How could such a new and little known technology have such massive business implications?  In this series of articles, we will first provide a general overview of what blockchain technology is and how it works.  In our second piece, we will provide an overview of how blockchain will change a variety of industries.  Finally, in our third piece, we will provide a more in-depth look at how blockchain will impact the legal industry, contracts and financial institutions.

While Bitcoin uses a specific implementation of the blockchain, blockchain in general can be described as a decentralized, shared, public ledger that is maintained by a network of computers that verify and record transactions into the same decentralized, shared, and public ledger.  No single user controls the ledger – it is maintained by all of its participates, in the cloud, or by a network of designated computers that collectively keep the ledger up to date and verify its transactions.  Bitcoin, as the largest implementation of blockchain technology today, uses competitive “miners,” or individual users that solve ever more difficult math equations with monetary rewards if they are successful, to verify and record transactions.

When a transaction is verified and recorded, the blockchain system sends transaction data to all of the users of the blockchain ledger, thereby ensuring the validity and accuracy of the transaction and prevents one party to the transaction from lying about the details or failing to perform.  Each transaction, or “block,” is encrypted into its own original piece of information, which is called a “hash.”  Even the slightest modification of data will result in an entirely different hash.  For example, in applying SHA256, the encryption algorithm used by Bitcoin, to the number 1000 generates the following hash, “40510175845988F13F6162ED8526F0B09F73384467FA855E1E79B44A56562A58” while the hash for the number “1000.01” generates a wildly different result in “6B481FC35196FA215BB30D39ECB919CE7DE410488EC08D692356E22E5A67B2B9.”  Because each hash is unique, it becomes exceptionally difficult to tamper with the system as it is nearly impossible to generate an identical hash to fool the system.

Essentially, blockchain is a tool where trustworthy records of transactions can be kept, verified, and made publicly available.  Blockchain is revolutionary because it creates confidence between counterparties and negates the need for neutral third-parties or transactional facilitators, such as escrow companies, government authorities or clearing houses.  Transactions are “peer-to-peer,” or directly contracting party to contracting party.  If there’s a disagreement, there’s no need to call a lawyer because there is only one database.

The implications of blockchain will be enormous and will impact almost every industry.  2018 is likely to be a huge turning point for blockchain technology and the year we see the technology significantly implemented beyond Bitcoin.  As we will discuss in Part II of this article, there are a wide variety of businesses and industries that are currently experimenting with blockchain technology.