Say you created some IP in the form of some files. How do you prove that you created the IP, in a theoretical cryptographic sense? A major constraint is to maintain security as well, so you can't just create a patent which will share the information publicly.

I can imagine all kinds of scenarios where someone can say down the road that they created the IP. Say you are in a small group like a government agency and internally to the agency you want to be recognized for some advancement. You can't create a patent or do something else public which would compromise the security of the agency, so you do what to prove you created the IP?

Say you create some advancement in the agency, but don't make a big deal out of it. Someone else in the agency sees the advancement, then draws up some fake "backdated" notes to make it look like they made the contribution. How do you say, "no, actually I did", while still maintaining security?

I am trying to understand if PGP applies, and if the idea of a Notary might be effective. Somehow you tell a Notary a little about your advancement contributed at work, and take an oath or something. Now somebody else at least knows by a certain date that you had some knowledge about the situation. But even then, that doesn't seem like enough to prove you actually created the contribution.

It's as if you need to create a highly detailed document, like a patent, outlining what you did and how it works. Then go to the Notary, have them read it, and sign off on it somehow. You never show this document to anyone else but the Notary. Then if it comes down to it, you can just call up the notary and be like "hey, didn't I do this thing first". But I don't know if that would be sufficient.

Basically, I'm wondering (a) what sort of documentation you need in this situation, and (b) what sort of authentication/security you need to prove identity and ownership, while also maintaining security. That is, how do you prove you were the one responsible for the new feature, without revealing it to the public like would happen through traditional "insecure" channels like patents?

I am trying to imagine like something with PGP. Say I have a website domain which hosts encrypted notes documenting the feature. Only I have the key to the notes, so I show people I can unlock it. BLah, that seems so lame and useless, I don't see how it could apply. Maybe Affidavits apply somehow, I don't know.

3 Answers 3


It is possible to sign a document (using PGP or by other means) and also include a trusted timestamp so that you could technically prove that you had a specific knowledge at a specific time. Or you could do it a non-technical way by writing everything down and give it to some publicly trusted party like a notary who will seal and timestamp the document and store it until you want to prove that you had this knowledge at the specific time.

But of course, somebody else could simply claim that they had this knowledge already earlier. While they can not prove this the same way you do they can get some bribed witnesses or make up some facts. And depending on the specific information it will be hard or impossible to prove that they could not have this knowledge at the time they claim. But whom some boss or judge will finally trust is not a technical thing but an interpersonal or legal thing, i.e. off-topic. With patents it is usually clear though because this is defined by law.

  • 1
    Another non-technical method for a trusted "timestamp" is to mail content to yourself in a tamper proof envelope and leave it unopened (possibly multiple copies). The date on the post mark establishes evidence of your access to the information it contains at that point.
    – YLearn
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 15:19

You can use the bitcoin blockchain as your 'notary'.

Document your IP. Then, take a hash of this document, and store the hash in a bitcoin transaction (specifically, in the op_return field of a transaction).

Then, later if you want to prove that you conceived of the IP (as of the date that you published the hash of the document in the blockchain), simply publish the document, and reference the transaction in the blockchain that contains the hash of the document.

Because it's virtually impossible for anyone to alter blocks more than a few levels deep in the blockchain, this proves that the document existed as of the date of the transaction. Furthermore, if necessary, you can prove that you are in possession of the key used to sign the transaction, by creating another transaction using the same signing key.

This is essentially the functionality behind proofofexistence.com, stampery.com, opentimestamps.org, etc.

  • What if I have a dynamic IP? Or are you talking about an Elastic IP like on AWS?
    – Lance
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 19:50
  • OMG lol, I totally thought IP address, but you're talking Intellectual Property haha, sorry!
    – Lance
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 19:51
  • I thought the same thing also, when I first read the question.
    – mti2935
    Commented Oct 26, 2019 at 20:14

Conceptually, if you assume the majority of the community where this IP is published respect copyright, I guess you can do the following.

  1. Take a picture of the newspaper of the day.

  2. sign the IP together with the picture. Keep the picture file and the signature file in private.

  3. hash the signature file

  4. include the hash and publish the IP with the hash in it.

In the future if you want to claim ownership of the IP, you need to provide the signature file and show that it can produce the hash included in the IP. Then provide the picture file you signed goether with the IP to show that it's a good signature. Lastly, sign another message to show that you are the owner of the signature.

The drawback is that during the propagation of IP among users the hash cannot be lost or modified. Therefore it's less reliable compared to @mti2935. That said, a Blockchain is equivalent to a trustable notary, while the above procedure doesn't require a third party but put trust in the community's copyright awareness.

I came up with this thought when reading the original Bitcoin white paper, and thought geez Satoshi could've done this to hide his identity while maintain the possibility of claiming it in the future.

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