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Blog: The Tension in the Blockchain Domain Space: Unstoppable Domains vs. ENS's Nick Johnson

Nov 17

In the ever-evolving landscape of blockchain and web3 technologies, a recent development has caught the attention of the crypto community. Nick Johnson, the founder and lead developer of Ethereum Name Service (ENS), has raised significant concerns regarding a patent held by Unstoppable Domains, a key player in the blockchain domain industry.

The Patent at the Heart of the Controversy

The patent in question, US11558344, granted to Unstoppable Domains in January 2023, claims a technology using blockchain to determine domains. Braden River Pezeshki, Matthew Everett Gould, and Bogdan Gusiev are listed as the inventors. This patent, according to Johnson, is “based entirely on innovations that ENS developed and contains no novel innovations of its own” – a bold claim that stirs up debate about innovation and intellectual property in the blockchain space.

The Open Letter and ENS's Stance

Johnson, in an open letter shared online, emphasized that all ENS work is under open-source licenses, with all standards available for public implementation. He argues that the ENS's job is to map human-readable names like 'alice.eth' to machine-readable identifiers like Ethereum addresses and other cryptocurrency addresses. Johnson's concern is that the patent held by Unstoppable Domains could potentially infringe upon the open-source ethos that ENS embodies.

Unstoppable Domains' Response

In response to the allegations, Matthew Gould of Unstoppable Domains extended an invitation to join the Web3 Domain Alliance, an industry group founded and run by Unstoppable Domains. However, this response did not fully address Johnson's concerns about the legal binding nature of the patent pledge.

The Crypto Community's Reaction

This dispute has not gone unnoticed. Figures like Bob Summerwill, executive director of the Ethereum Classic Cooperative (ETC Cooperative), have voiced concerns about the implications of this patent for the open-source community. The argument is that requiring organizations to join the Web3 Domain Alliance to benefit from the patent contradicts the open-source principles many in the crypto community hold dear.

Looking Ahead

This ongoing conflict between Unstoppable Domains and ENS's Nick Johnson is more than just a legal dispute; it's a reflection of the broader challenges and ethical considerations in the blockchain domain space. As the industry continues to grow and evolve, how intellectual property is managed and how open-source principles are upheld will be crucial in shaping the future of blockchain technologies and their widespread adoption.

This development is a reminder of the dynamic and often complex nature of innovation in the web3 space. The outcome of this dispute will likely have significant implications for how blockchain technologies and domain names are developed and managed in the future.

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