Digital evidence at WIPO

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Symbiosis IP

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Recent disruptions in working practises have reminded us, more than ever, that we live in a digital age and those making the most of that fact are best equipped to cope with the future.

In that vein, on 27 May 2020 the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) launched its global online service that stores a secure record of digital evidence, thus establishing the existence of a digital file at a specific time. Amongst its users, it is thought in-house counsel and those working with fast moving innovations may find the service particularly useful. The cost is CHF 20 per record, renewable every 5 years.

The new service is available through the WIPO IP Portal within the category ‘Digital Evidence’ and the dedicated website for WIPO PROOF. 

It should be useful for establishing the existence of files relating to data, code, trade secrets, know how, lab notes, even failed experiments all accessible for future use in disputes where digital evidence is legally recognised and accepted.

In practise, the digital file to be recorded is not uploaded to WIPO but rather it is identified in its original location and a cryptographic hash value is assigned to it, thus uniquely identifying that file at that time. In effect WIPO is acting as a time-stamping authority and in doing so issues a token (a unique digital fingerprint of a digital file in any format and size) which, once generated, is stored on WIPO’s servers in Switzerland. It follows, in providing this service WIPO is not endorsing the veracity or content of the information contained in the digital file but solely providing evidence of the existence of the specific digital file at a specific point of time.

To use the service one simply needs a WIPO account, the digital file in any format, the name of a natural person who owns the digital file (such as the name of the authorised representative or legal representative of the company) and a payment method (e.g. a current account at WIPO or simply a purchased token(s). 

Reassuringly, the process contains a final online validation where a comparison between the identifier of the original digital file and the identifier contained in the WIPO PROOF token is undertaken and if they match, a message indicating that the validation was successful is displayed. The message also contains the day and time (including seconds) in which the token was created and verified. 

Notably, this also means if the digital file is ever modified, the validation process cannot be carried out successfully and one is advised: “Token could not be successfully verified as it’s either invalid or does not match with the submitted digital work”.

One final point, no IP rights are granted by the provision of this service and so it does not replace the national or regional IP registration systems in place worldwide.

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