Rising tensions in blockchain domain space
In a forthright open letter published on X on November 17, Johnson urged Unstoppable Domains to renounce a controversial patent or face a potential lawsuit. The patent in question, US11558344, awarded in January 2023, is said to be based on technologies pioneered by ENS, without introducing novel innovations.
ENS, a distributed, open, and extensible naming system based on the Ethereum blockchain, has been a forerunner in linking human-readable names with machine-readable identifiers such as Ethereum addresses and other cryptocurrency addresses. Johnson asserts that the patented technology by Unstoppable Domains, claiming to use blockchain for determining domains, is entirely derivative of ENS’s innovations. ENS has traditionally kept its work under open-source licenses, making its standards publicly available for implementation.
The core of the dispute
The crux of the dispute lies in the perceived lack of novelty and the proprietary nature of Unstoppable Domains’ patent. According to Johnson, despite attempts to resolve the issue out of the public eye, Unstoppable Domains has remained unresponsive. In response, Johnson’s open letter calls for an “unconditional and irrevocable patent pledge” from Unstoppable Domains, putting legal force behind its public relations commitments.
Unstoppable Domains’ Matthew Gould, one of the alleged inventors named in the patent, has responded with an invitation to join the Web3 Domain Alliance, an industry group spearheaded by Unstoppable Domains.
Gould said: “There are no forward guarantees that can be made that make sense given the changing landscape of the industry. IMO, the only solution is to increase collaboration and discussion.”
However, this move was criticized by Bob Summerwill, executive director of the Ethereum Classic Cooperative, who pointed out that this approach forces organizations to join their alliance to benefit from the patent pledge, thereby undermining the open-source ethos.
As the dispute garners attention in the crypto community, the resolution remains uncertain. While Unstoppable Domains maintains an open door for dialogue within the Web3 Domain Alliance, ENS stands firm in its position against the patent, ready to challenge it legally if necessary.