Social networks and other forms of online discussion platforms have made it possible for ideas to be disseminated in the blink of an eye. Nevertheless, there are several logical justifications that render individuals hesitant to share their ideas on the internet. For example, academic researchers usually prefer not to make their contributions public, until they have been formally published to ensure receiving appropriate credit for their work. Accordingly, creative contributions and innovative ideas are often shared within a small circle of trustworthy peers, rather than with bigger audiences online. This attitude keeps other experts, in a given topic, from participating in the discussion.
VirtualPatent is a novel application that deploys a proof-of-concept implementation of an online sharing and discussion platform that addresses the aforementioned problem. VirtualPatent is designed to automatically timestamp each post, created or shared by a user, via creation of a distributed timestamp on bitcoin’s blockchain. Apart from timestamping techniques, which are managed by centralized platforms, blockchain stored timestamps are persistent and cannot be modified or tampered with. VirtualPatent’s system allows the author of an online post to retrospectively mark the exact time at which his/her contribution was first made in a tamper-proof manner.
What is Decentralized Trusted Timestamping of Digital Media?
Decentralized Trusted Timestamping (DTT) via the blockchain technology is a novel technical solution that addresses the problem of securly marking the time at which digital files existed in a specific state. According to this digital timestamping approach, the unique hash generated from a specific digital file is recorded as a transaction on a cryptocurrency’s blockchain. According to bitcoin’s blockchain protocol, it is almost impossible to tamper with transaction records; in other words, timestamps are recorded on a persistently verifiable, tamperproof medium.
VirtualPatent’s System Design:
VirtualPatent is implemented in the form of a flask web app, along with a Python backend and an SQLite database. The app is hosted, in the form of a demo, on Heroku and should be considered as a proof-of-concept. The developers of VirtualPatent invite coders to develop their unique applications via building on their idea and they made the source code available for everyone under MIT license at: www.gipp.com/dtt.
The platform enables users to create profiles and upload a wide variety of file formats. VirtualPatent formulates the unique hash for the uploaded file via hashlib’s SHA-256 function. The yielded hash is then submitted for timestamping on bitcoin’s blockchain using OriginStamp’s API. The below figure illustrates the communication that takes place between the web app and OriginStamp’s API to generate the blockchain timestamp.
To prevent overcrowding the blockchain with unnecessary transactions, and to minimize transaction fees, OriginStamp is designed to collect all received hashes within a 24 hour period and formulate one aggregate hash (SHA-256) as shown on the top right box on the above figure. A new bitcoin address is generated from this aggregate hash, to which a onetime transaction of one Satoshi (0.00000001) is sent. The transaction time at which the hash is recorded onto the blockchain becomes the file’s timestamp.
As timestamping is delayed, users can choose to keep the content of their files private, until the transaction has been confirmed. To verify a file’s timestamp, the unique file hash along with a verification link are broadcast along with each published post. The verification link presently points to OriginStamp’s database that includes all submitted timestamps, but can be modified to redirect to any alternative blockchain explorer that offers users a GUI to help them verify transactions on bitcoin’s blockchain.
VirtualPatent automatically sends registered users a confirmation email once their files have been successfully timestamped. The confirmation email includes a list of all the hashes that were used to generate the aggregate hash from which the bitcoin address was formulated. Offering this data to the user ensures that even if VirtualPatent’s platform, or the OriginStamp service fail, users would have a copy of the data needed to validate that the hash of their file was actually embedded in a bitcoin transaction and recorded onto the blockchain.
The UI of VirtualPatent promotes ease of use and provides all the actions that a user of an online discussion or sharing platform would need including creation of profiles, browsing posts, commenting on posts, sharing posts and following users. The platform’s functionality is insipired by Quora and StackExchange.