In recent events, Nick Johnson of the Ethereum Name Service has openly criticized Unstoppable Domains for their approach to patenting in the web3 naming sector.
Highlighting a clash of ideals, Johnson’s tweets argue that UD’s approach undermines the Web3 community’s commitment to open innovation. This ongoing dispute represents a crucial juncture in the blockchain domain name field, putting the principle of collaborative advancement to the test. Further, the increasing conflict draws attention to balancing innovation with proprietary rights in the fast-changing digital landscape.
The core of the controversy: Patenting in Web3
The crux of the conflict lies in the contrasting approaches to innovation and intellectual property. Under Johnson’s leadership, ENS has consistently advocated for open-source licensing, asserting that all their work and standards are freely available for public use.
“ENS has been a consistent and outspoken advocate of open source, open standards, and the importance of governing the global namespace as a public good.”
This open approach is seen as vital for fostering innovation and collaboration in the evolving Web3 ecosystem. In contrast, Unstoppable Domains has begun securing patents for similar technologies, which Johnson deems contrary to the spirit of open innovation.
Johnson’s main grievance is with Unstoppable Domains’ patent US11558344, titled “Resolving Blockchain Domains,” granted in January. According to Johnson, this patent and subsequent applications are based entirely on innovations developed by ENS and contain no novel concepts.
In January of this year, Unstoppable Domains was granted its first patent, number US11558344, Resolving Blockchain Domains. This patent is based entirely on innovations that ENS developed and contains no novel innovations of its own.
— nick.eth (@nicksdjohnson) November 16, 2023
The dialogue and the deadlock
In response, Unstoppable Domains, represented by Matthew Gould, defended its actions by stressing the need for multiple naming systems in Web3 and the importance of a forum for collaborative discussion.
He even extended an invitation to ENS to join the Web3 Domain Alliance, a group founded by UD, which was also pledged with the contentious patent.
Hi Nick, thanks for taking the time to have these conversations with us the past couple months. We continue to offer an open invitation to join the web3 domain alliance and advance web3 naming for all systems – not just ENS. Just like ICANN was essential to DNS, standards bodies…
— matt.x (@matthewegould) November 16, 2023
However, Johnson criticized this move. He argues that press releases and non-binding pledges do not provide the legal certainty needed for industry participants to operate without fear of infringement.
“What do you think about backing up your PR pledge with something binding, Matt? I think what we proposed is quite reasonable and keeps the door open for defensive use.”
In addition, Johnson indicates that ENS’s concerns go beyond just the existence of the patent. He suggests that open licensing of the patent to everyone, not just ENS, could resolve the issue. Contrarily, Gould argues that the evolving nature of the industry renders the idea of providing future guarantees impractical. He advocates for increased collaboration and discussion, suggesting that the best way forward is through a collective effort involving various stakeholders in the web3 domain space.
The ripple effects in the Web3 community
This dispute has not gone unnoticed in the broader crypto and blockchain communities. Prominent figures like Bob Summerwill, the Ethereum Classic Cooperative executive director, have chimed in, highlighting the potential implications of UD’s actions on the open-source ethos in Web3. The debate touches on broader themes of innovation, collaboration, and competition in a fast-evolving technological landscape.
Also, Matt, this prior pledge is not the same as we are talking about, because legal entities need to "join the club" to benefit from the patent pledge. You are retaining the right to patent attack anybody who does not comply and join your alliance.https://t.co/3aKCnUYxc2
— Bob Summerwill (@BobSummerwill) November 16, 2023
As the dialogue between ENS and UD continues, the broader Web3 community watches closely. The standoff between ENS and Unstoppable Domains epitomizes a fundamental disagreement between the two parties: while UD seeks to foster discussion and collaboration through its alliance, ENS advocates for a more open and unrestricted approach to using Web3 technologies.
The core question arising from this dispute is whether the future of Web3 will be shaped by open, collaborative efforts or by competitive patenting and exclusivity. This question is crucial, as the answer will likely influence the direction of innovation and development in the blockchain domain space.