I’ve been in the brand protection industry for 12+ years and every so often there’s a “buzzword” that most of my clients are asking questions about. Sometimes the chatter was about RFID, or about China and Alibaba but most recently the buzzword for not only the brand protection space but other industries seems to be Blockchain.Now I will admit, until OpSec partnered with Blockpool, a UK-based blockchain developer, to add blockchain technologies to OpSec’s Insight platform, I didn’t know much about the technology. However, over the last few months as I’ve met with companies to discuss how adding blockchain may enhance their overall brand protection strategy, here are a few of the basic things I’ve learned.
What exactly is Blockchain?
In the most simplest terms, Blockchain is a database that maintains a continuous growing list of data records (blocks) or transactions.
It contains a Distributed Ledger
Blockchain consists of a distributed ledger which means the information isn’t stored in any single location and is repeatedly reconciled. Blockchain allows digital information to be distributed but not copied.
For example, say I recently drafted a will. I put one copy in the safe at my house. I’ve given a copy of that exact will to my Aunt in New York, to my Uncle in London, and to my brother in Los Angeles. But along comes my greedy cousin who wants to change the contents of my will to benefit himself. In order for him to change my will, not only would he need to update the will from my safe, but also the one that was sent to my Aunt, my Uncle and my brother. He could change the will in one location but the same data exists in 3 other places and would need to be changed to match the original will. Hence, one of the benefits of Blockchain - by not having the data stored in one centralized location it makes it impossible for the data to be changed, hacked or corrupted.
The Blockchain Transactions consists of “blocks”
Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the current block, a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data. So each block has to link up to the hash of the previous block for it to be authentic.
The Network can be Shared or Private
Information held on a blockchain exists as a shared database, but the protocol can either be public or private. Public protocols are completely open, they don’t require permission which allows anyone to join and participate in the network. Bitcoin is one of the largest public blockchain networks. A private blockchain network requires an invitation and must be validated by a set of rules put in place. Businesses who set up a private blockchain, will generally set up a permissioned network. This places restrictions on who is allowed to participate in the network, and in which transactions.
It is Secure
The database is an indisputable and irreversible record. Posts to the distributed ledger cannot be changed or tampered with – not even by the operators of the database.
So given the functionality above, I’m sure the question you’re dying to ask is how can blockchain be used for brand protection? For brands that have counterfeiting issues, it can help eliminate counterfeit products. Since blockchain is a permanent ledger, the “blocks” can be used to identify and trace the chain of custody for the specific goods. Retaining serial numbers or other product data on a blockchain allows anyone that has been granted permission (manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and consumers) to verify that the product is authentic. One current use case is De Beers, the world’s largest diamond producer. They use blockchain technology to create a permanent and traceable digital record for every registered diamond to help cut down on blood diamonds.
A second example of how blockchain can be used is to improve the supply chain. By identifying production raw materials and processes and retaining that information on a blockchain, you can monitor (and optimize) your supply chain from raw materials to finished goods. One current use case is Walmart which uses blockchain to have its employees scan goods (like fruit) in the store’s app and track it along every step of the journey from the tree to the store fruit aisle.
The last thing I want to share is a common misconception about blockchain. Blockchain is the “vehicle” to provide the features described above, but in order for that vehicle to run you still need the keys. In regards to track and trace, Blockchain is the underlying network technology (the vehicle) but you still need some type of track and trace software (the keys) to provide the track and trace functionality. By adding the Blockpool Blockchain technology to OpSec’s InSight Track and Trace and consumer engagement platform, it can provide supply chain provenance. Each stage of the manufacturing/distribution process is immutably recorded on the blockchain to help prevent fraud and guarantee provenance along with improved quality control tracking and auditing.
Valerie Finn is OpSec's Director of Brand Protection. She has over 12 years experience in devising and executing brand protection strategies for global corporations to proactively minimize risk and maximize brand equity against Counterfeiting, Gray Market Diversion, Intellectual Property Infringement, and Online Brand Abuse. Her career has spanned multiple industries including Telecommunications, Corporate Compliance & Governance, and Intellectual Property & Trademark Management.