Can Ethereum tackle intangible assets? (Big Pharma)

seeriktusseeriktus Member Posts: 11
edited February 2016 in Education
Hey there, this is a medical scientist calling across the interwebs to any techies out there willing to help tackle this issue.
Currently the medicines and healthcare industry is undergoing massive disruption because clinical trials are becoming too expensive. Historically Intellectual Property has always been held by just one entity (big pharma), but the economy is now moving towards distributed IP to handle the cost (IP-backed securities, IP-backed loans), yet protection of these investments can only poorly be handled by the furious writing of a few expensive lawyers. This model is likely to have completely collapsed within 10-20 years.

It has been established for centuries how IP-protection can handle 'tangible' assets; for example the patent on the motor car.
But the majority of the innovative technologies today are 'intangible'; drug patents, theories, financial instruments,

Perhaps people working with Ethereum are used to the idea that the work needs to be done by a computer? In Biology only some of this can, such as molecular modelling, though the majority is done by people thinking and working in laboratories and institutions, resulting in publications and reports. Does this mean these activities are excluded from the presence of Ethereum? Does it have potential outside of the computer?
When scientist publishes their material it is essentially freely available, this is seen by most as an ethical step, though this loses the opportunity for the idea to be financed and grow to point where it has sufficient capital to pass through clinical trials (these cost about $5Bn per drug). Could Ethereum make it possible for ideas to remain available but also investment-worthy?

My question is this:

Can Ethereum tackle intangibles better than people?
Please let me know if there is anything I should be reading about.
Post edited by seeriktus on


  • garrgarr BerlinMember Posts: 8
    Short answer: Yes!

    A Dapp can certainly be built that proves ownership of a certain intangible asset in a given period of time. There is already a platform (really great guys that I know personally at that does this with the bitcoin blockchain, and my guess is they will migrate toward Ethereum as it becomes more established. There's just so much more that you can do on this platform for these kinds of things.

    If you have any other questions I'll be happy to share what I know.

  • seeriktusseeriktus Member Posts: 11
    Thanks Garr,
    So my understanding is that provides authentication for the 'disembodied' work of art, which is then tradable. Files generated can be copied and multiplied by viewers as long as they have access, but ownership is enforced (in the real world) using the authentication as proof.
    For example if it is a licensed .pdf file that is copied, if the license expires the computer won't then delete it automatically, but the person's legal right to use it does expire.
  • seeriktusseeriktus Member Posts: 11
    So the reason I posted this is because I am currently writing a report for University of Edinburgh about new ways in which IP can be structured to accommodate pharmaceutical development, and healthcare services.

    Regarding IP:
    There is a lot of evidence that geographical 'clustering' is very beneficial to innovation in biotechnology (see UK BioCity centres). The pharmaceutical industry is currently facing a crisis because development costs are outstripping revenues generated. For the therapies that are successful, there is an enormous price-tag for the patient ($1.4 million per year per patient for Glybera).
    Previous drug trials have been financed using private portfolios, drugs are put into a common pot (~30-40) that is invested in by several contributors that share in the success. This seems to have worked, but it is of course private, so most people cannot invest in it or share in the success. I had the idea that drug patents could be traded in something akin to the stock market based on the markets confidence in a drug's success. So an ethereum marketplace could directly finance clinical trials.

    Regarding health data:
    The NHS in Scotland has a substantial amount of patient data available, though this is kept very secure. I myself have dealt with data from Tayside of 100k people, though this was just scratching the surface. For most scientists in the UK, patient data is simply not accessible, whether academic or commercial, very few are given access rights. Mostly this is just for regulatory reasons, many NHS staff are given access.
    It is a quite well organised and descriptive dataset, each patient is given a single CHI number, and everything from surgical operations to genetics results is attached.
    This obviously means that there is a whole lot of science and development not being done, personally I would look forward to a big GWAS study.
    So in this case, ethereum would be there to provide a cryptographically secure network where people can openly analyse pseudo-anonymised patient data without revealing anything damaging to any single patient.
  • akropissakropiss Member Posts: 64
    edited March 2016
    this is an interesting and somewhat novel use of ethereum, I'll admit I'm not the expert you're looking for, but, from the reading I've come across, I would be optimistic in finding a practical application you are looking for.
    You should definitely approach one of the bigger, more seasoned dev guys, I'm sure they could give you definite answers and be good literary sources for your report, it may take some time, since they're probably working on similar projects of varied scale.
  • o0ragman0oo0ragman0o Member, Moderator Posts: 1,291 mod
    edited March 2016
    @seeriktus, you've raised an incredible usage case for Ethereum, and I would certainly agree that Ethereum could 'probably' do the job. Essentially you are talking of 'rights' ownership and licencing which in the broader sense can encompass anything from art, music, movies, ebooks, magazines, journals etc, to complete blockchain patent records.

    I envision that most digital rights management could be by way of purchasing or subscribing to descryption keys signed with consumer's Ethereum private key for encrypted content. That way the content is only viewable by the private key owner who paid for it. I expect exactly this kind of entertainment DRM to be a substantial presence in the Ethereum DAPP market place.

    Expanding this into a fully fledged IP records system, where the IP owners themselves can directly manage licensing, might take a little more work but in principle there's no reason it couldn't be done.

    I would envision an IP records/patent system itself could evolve into a highly dynamic community of freelance human patent 'validators' (akin to patent clerks) competing to find 'prior art' already in the system. Some fee/reward structure could be arrived at to support consensus across such validators.

    As for scientific publications being essentially free, that might be the case if you're lucky enough to subscribe to a decent research library, but the rest of us poor want-a-be's find pay walls way to tall to climb.
  • seeriktusseeriktus Member Posts: 11
    edited March 2016
    Many publications are already free to view. 'Pay-per-view'ers dont pay to literally own the publication. So I dont envisage an effort towards scientific publications being free, since it is never free for the creator, but to make it's creation investment worthy. Private investors are extremely selective in which projects they choose, so many potentially fruitful projects are lost. In addition, these investors are not 'omniscient', there are many other skilled individuals that have important perspectives for which investments will be successful. So the method of investment needs to be shifted from a very small number of private individuals/companies to a distributed public market based on confidence.

    Some important references:
    Securitisation of Intellectual Property
    DRI Capital: Portfolio 2015
    Royalty Pharma: Portfolio

    Clinical trials (costing ~£1B-5B) are supported by the largest of pharmaceutical companies. This cost is because about 98% of drug candidates fail their trial (this is still getting worse). Once successful they have an effective monopoly until their patent ends, which is about 5years. They have to make this money back in that period plus any potential investment returns, or risk a collapse of the entire company.
    I know that some of the more anarchist types on this forum would actually be happy to see the fall of a 'big bad corporation'. But if they collapse, then that means there will be no new medicines for life-threatening diseases, end of story.

    Academic publications (costing ~£100k-1m+) are supported by government funding, this is for two reasons:
    1) Because it is considered ethical for it to be created and publically available, especially when it could help cure disease.
    and 2) Exploratory Basic Research is not investment worthy as it is very expensive and has no clear business goal or customer. Academics dont usually receive anything from the publisher, and are just happy enough to be featured. The fees go to supporting the publisher's peer-review process among other admin things.
    Post edited by seeriktus on
  • seeriktusseeriktus Member Posts: 11
    @akropiss would you mind pointing me towards one of them? I'm still trying to work out how to get around on this system
  • akropissakropiss Member Posts: 64
    @seeriktus I would imagine you could try @nixoid

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