IBM staffers file patent for blockchain-powered domain name service

Ben Munster


Several IBM staffers are looking to patent a blockchain-powered domain-name system (DNS), according to a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office yesterday.

It’s unclear whether IBM itself is actually involved in the project; a request for comment has thus far gone unanswered. But typically, companies such as IBM own all the inventions and patent filings their employees come up with while in their employ, so we’re assuming this is an IBM thing.

Though IBM itself isn’t named in the patent application, 20 researchers employed there, as well as researchers from a handful of venerable institutions, including Peking University, are behind the latest submission. Many of the researchers’ LinkedIn profiles tie them to IBM.

The application makes the case that the existing DNS system, which routes traffic when users look for websites, isn’t secure. According to the filing, domains would be owned across a distributed network of computers, and run under the auspices of an advanced “governance” structure. The current system, it’s worth mentioning, is also technically decentralized—but doesn’t operate on a shared, cryptographically secure ledger as a blockchain-powered version would.

“Looks like competition for Handshake,” says Virgil Griffith, who directs Ethereum-based domain service ENS. Handshake is a protocol aiming to do a similar thing to the IBM researchers’ proposed system. 

In the filing, the IBMers disparage other, similar attempts at creating such a system, including the Bitcoin-based DNS replacements Blockstack and Filecoin.The filing says that the cost of  running DNS lookup on the Bitcoin network is too expensive. Instead, the researchers propose using proof of stake, in which large and long-term holders validate the network. 

IBM’s blockchain ambitions are well-documented. The storied tech multinational has been involved with Walmart, Hyperledger, VeChain, Ethereum, and a host of others in the blockchain space, racking up a record number of patents in the meantime. 

Another competitor to the putative IBM  DNS project is Blockstack, which has already broken ground. Last month the startup was the first to be granted approval by the US Securities and Exchange Commission to sell token to unaccredited investors.