So what is blockchain? In essence it’s a promise. It promises to enable us to exchange goods and services completely securely


Nicolas Hou


Nicolas Hou est le fondateur de la startup genevoise Colosse, co-fondateur de project HERO et président de Ministry Of Cuteness. Après quelques années dans des entreprises de renom tels que Reuters, Honda et Apple

French version

We have a rather special guest today, my old friend from Harvard, Brahima Soukouna.  After spending time working as a legal adviser in international organisations such as the International League for Human Rights, he embarked on an entrepreneurial adventure by creating his start-up IPLOCKED.  Being passionate about new technology, especially anything to do with blockchain, I had to ask him a few questions for the sake of our readers who haven’t always seemed to grasp the importance of this new technology.

  1. Hi Brahima, could you describe yourself in 5 words?
  • Geek, loyal, conscientious, enthusiastic, creative
  1. What’s your profession?
  • Adviser in intellectual property and blockchain.
  1. So what is blockchain?
  • In essence it’s a promise. It promises to enable us to exchange goods and services completely securely and all over the world.  The point is that a third party organisation for the arbitration of these exchanges no longer exists.  Technically, it’s an ultra-secure database, in which every entry is completely secure and unalterable.  With the clear advantage that the data is accessible enough that anyone can use it to judge for him or herself the veracity of any information they’ve been given.
  1. To the “common mortals” among us, blockchain means “crypto-currency”, but this is not the case. How would you demystify this distinction?
  • People tend to confuse blockchain with crypto-currencies like bitcoin, ethereum, litecoin, neo and so on. The finance sector was the first to be impacted by this technology and through a lack of transparency people have come to see the two as integral to each other. Nevertheless, to say that blockchain and crypto-currency are the same thing is an oversimplification.  In brief, blockchain is the technology that secures the use of cryptocurrency.  People quickly realised that it was possible to bypass the entities that dictate the value of the currency of a particular country.  That’s why broadly speaking the purchase of cryptocurrency has skyrocketed.
  1. Do you know of any examples of start-ups that use blockchain?
  • There are plenty of examples, notably:
  • in the food industry, just as IPLocked predicted in its “MadeinSwiss” development plan, Walmart uses a blockchain register to keep track of its foods from farm to table ;
  • in the insurance sector, the Zurich blockchain B3i uses the “smart contracts” system to reduce delays to compensation payments by speeding up data sharing between the agents managing the incident ;
  • in the transport sector, Arcade City plans to use blockchain to put chauffeurs and passengers in direct contact without an intermediary body managing the chauffeurs’ incomes;
  • in the finance sector, there is the business Ripple, which plans to conduct secure international financial transactions at low cost (market exchange rate and mining fees).
  1. But to get to the point, how do you define intellectual property?
  • When we talk about a innovative invention, an well put together logo, a good book or a product’s design, we are already at the very heart of intellectual property. By definition, it’s all about the protection of works created through your creativity from your mind!
  1. Your start-up, IPLocked, is founded on the notion of blockchain. How did it all start?
  • IPLocked is a decentralised certification platform which enables you to certify your creations and inventions, and to easily create contracts and licences dictating the use of these creations. The story is fairly simple: I was sitting on the benches at the historic Harvard University in Boston when two friends contacted me telling me that they’d quit their jobs to create a start-up.  I remember what they said: “We know nothing about intellectual property.  We have no idea how to protect our creation or what needs protecting.  We’ve got hardly any money and we want to start talking to investors.”  During our conversation I realised that there exists a considerable amount of start-ups, artists and inventors who leave their creations unprotected due to a combination of a lack of money and a lack of trust in intellectual property protection institutions.  It was at this moment that IPLocked was born!
  1. What services do you offer? Do you have an example?
  • The idea is to allow anyone – artist, inventor, start-up founder, entrepreneur, self-employed -- access to lasting protection of their creation or invention, as well as advice on intellectual property. IPLocked offers a variety of services in this domain: strategy, audit, advice, brainstorming, etc.  The novelty is in our service of providing certificates of authenticity for creations and inventions.
  • To give a simple example: say you created a logo for your start-up and you haven’t got the funds to have it registered as a trademark through a public institution. Through IPLocked you can copyright your logo.  IPLocked provides proof that the logo is your creation by putting it in a blockchain.  You are thus able to prove at any moment that you are the owner of the rights to the logo.
  1. In 2008 bitcoin was created in the context of public anger at the banks (Wall Street). Is IPLocked also a part of this digital revolution that seems to aim to put the power back in the hands of the people?
  • The general consensus nowadays is that people have lost confidence in institutions. IPLocked is a community looking for an equilibrium, the aim is to make all operations linked to intellectual property more transparent, but moreover aiming to give everyone the possibility to protect their intellectual property, even if they haven’t got the means to do so through the traditional route.  In a way, to use IPLocked is to be an activist with the goal of allowing creativity to emerge more freely, regardless of social class!
  1. What separates a public institution for the protection of intellectual property from a start-up like yours, founded on the notion of blockchain?
  • IPLocked goal is not to replace public institution but rather to bridge the gap between those possessing creations and inventions and public institutions such as the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation). It’s head; Mr. Francis Gurry considers blockchain to be a potential solution when it comes to intellectual property, and he’s right.  This is a person for whom I have the utmost respect and I hope to have the chance to collaborate with the WIPO, and thus provide our clients with an assurance of the highest quality service in combining private and public sector.
  • IPLocked works in the area of proof and copyright, it’s able to break through borders instantaneously, unlike national institutions. In a matter of hours, you have access to certification valid in all 176 signing countries of the Berne convention. The agreement on how to manage all aspects of intellectual property as it relates to business.
  1. Ok, let’s imagine that someone comes to you with their invention but at the exact same time someone else is presenting your invention to a public institution, who would gain the rights in this instance?
  • Upon receiving a dossier, a public institution must first verify who the real owner of the rights is. Otherwise the work it would be protecting would be criminal.  The blockchain authenticity certificate is proof that can be used to oppose an act of counterfeiting.  If you thus prove that you own the rights, provided that those evaluating your dossier are upstanding, the offending counterfeit dossier will be rejected.  At the same time, we will undertake research into your dossier before providing you with your certificate, significantly reducing the risk.  However, a small risk will always remain.
  1. Let’s assume (and I sincerely hope so!) that IPLocked succeeds brilliantly. Will you do an IPO (Initial Public Offering) and as such return to the old system, or will you go all the way in distributing shares to everyone?
  • All those who contribute to our project will receive shares, giving them access to IPLocked’s future profits. I believe that intellectual property belongs to everyone.  The idea is that no matter where you are in the world, you yourself or your future generations will be able to benefit from the protection of your creation or invention.  You will never be forced to cede these benefits to big organisations, regardless of you means.  Apple was created in a garage let’s not forget.  This is why I’m inviting everyone to contribute to our crowdfunding campaign that we’ve started on Kickstarter.
  1. I’ve got a magic wand: I offer you either a ton of gold or 100,000 bitcoins… What do you choose?
  • Ha, ha! Great! A ton of gold, that’s 1000 kilos. A kilo of gold goes for 34,000 dollars and a bitcoin is worth 4500 dollars.  It’s a no brainer.  I’d rather 100,000 bitcoins, due not just to my beliefs but also to their current strength.

Thanks Brahima!

There’s no doubt about it, blockchain will change our lives the same way the internet did several years ago.  Born out of a frustration with the centralised financial system, blockchain is going to shake up many sectors and professions; Brahima’s start-up IPLocked is one example.  The big players are going to have to work with the newcomers, driven by their desire for more fairness in a world still dominated by juggernauts.

Like all disruptive technologies, blockchain will have its share of trades and sectors sacrificed in the name of a more efficiency and less cost.  It’s for this reason that we can no longer be content to stay in one career but must be agile and flexible, ready to change up our lives when the moment arises.  Are we prepared for these waves of new technologies that promise to shake up our lives?  Will our children be prepared?  Brahima has shown that with an idea and the technology to back it up, innovation and a new way of looking at things are possible.