Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are hard to escape in the news as the hot tech trend of the moment, as it seems that every business is jumping into the game trying to make some money. And if you’re wondering how exactly they make money, or what those buyers are purchasing, or really what any of it is about, you’re not alone; as prolific as stories about NFTs are articles attempting to explain what NFTs are to a public still working on wrapping its collective mind around how blockchain works.
Given how widespread the trend has become, it would seem to the casual observer that anything can be a NFT, and IBM seems eager to test that theory, as it announced recently that it has partnered with IPwe to create NFTs for patents. The argument for such a move makes a certain amount of sense: IBM argues (correctly) that intellectual property is undervalued, and that tokenizing patents would serve to make it easier to not only value them but to commercialize them, with the transparency of the blockchain assuring buyers or investors of ownership.
Certainly this and other similar moves would work to address some of the fundamental issues surrounding intellectual property, namely the difficulty that can arise in trying to monetize IP, particularly if there are concerns about rights or ownership disputes. The blockchain offers indisputable evidence of ownership, and having a token as representative of that ownership, to be sold or traded upon, would make for a relatively simpler process.
But is it simple enough for the average business to take advantage of? Most people’s knowledge of the blockchain is vague at best, and while there are those adept at both blockchain and NFTs, it’s safe to say most business owners are probably still trying to grasp the basic concepts of either, if they’re trying at all. And while every business has to be tech-savvy to a certain degree to operate in 2021, NFTs can seem an abstraction completely detached from the everyday operation of their company.
All that is to say that NFTs can work for intellectual property, but like any technology there needs to be widespread adoption in order to become the new mode, and wider adoption requires greater and better education. More importantly, they’ll need to overcome a degree of skepticism that is probably fair given what we’ve seen in the fluctuations in the price of Bitcoin. It’s all well and good for people at the bleeding edge to announce NFTs or whatever the next trend is to be the New Big Thing, but in order for it to be true they’ve got to get the rest of us on board.