Ethereum Name Service Developers Call on Unstoppable Domains to Abandon Patents or Risk Legal Action
17th Nov, 2023
In an open letter shared on X (formerly Twitter), Nick Johnson, the founder and lead developer of Ethereum Name Service (ENS), has called on blockchain domains company Unstoppable Domains to abandon a recently granted patent or potentially face legal action. The letter asserts that Unstoppable Domains' patent, US11558344, which was awarded in January, is fundamentally rooted in innovations developed by ENS Labs. The patent, filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2021, credits Braden River Pezeshki, Matthew Everett Gould, and Bogdan Gusiev as the inventors of a technology leveraging blockchain for domain determination. However, Johnson contends that the patent lacks original innovations and is essentially built upon concepts pioneered by ENS. The ENS documentation clarifies that Unstoppable Domains' patent is "based entirely on innovations that ENS developed and contains no novel innovations of its own." The open letter signals Johnson's strong stance on the matter, suggesting potential legal repercussions if Unstoppable Domains does not address the concerns raised.
“The Ethereum Name Service (ENS) is a distributed, open, and extensible naming system based on the Ethereum blockchain. ENS’s job is to map human-readable names like ‘alice. eth’ to machine-readable identifiers such as Ethereum addresses, other cryptocurrency addresses, content hashes, and metadata.”
In the open letter, Johnson claims that all the ENS work is under open-source licenses, with all standards publicly available for implementation. According to him, continued attempts to contact Unstoppable Domains about the issue have failed in recent months.
In response to the situation, Johnson pointed out that Unstoppable Domains (UD) had released a press statement, wherein they committed their initial patent to the Web3 Domain Alliance—an industry consortium established and managed by Unstoppable Domains. While acknowledging the gesture, Johnson expressed regret, emphasizing that press releases lack legal enforceability.
“We are thus requesting that Unstoppable Domains put legal weight behind its PR commitment, with an unconditional and irrevocable patent pledge.”
The ENS Labs is “ready to challenge this patent, which we believe is entirely derivative of our own inventions; a position we are able and willing to demonstrate,” Johnson warned.
One of the alleged inventors from Unstoppable Domains, Matthew Gould, responded in the thread, extending an open invitation to join the Web3 Domain Alliance, the blockchain domain registry organization allegedly pledged with the patent. Gould also argued:
“I think your proposed solution doesn’t take into account the fact that we want there to be multiple naming systems - not just ENS - and the only way to ensure that future is to have a place where everyone (not just UD and ENS) collaborate.”
According to Cointelegraph they reached out to Unstoppable Domains, but did not receive an immediate response.
The discussion within the thread drew the interest of the cryptocurrency community. Bob Summerwill, who serves as the executive director of the Ethereum Classic Cooperative (ETC Cooperative), pointed out that compelling organizations to join the Web3 Domain Alliance as a condition for technology rights constitutes a direct challenge to the open-source ethos.
“Also, Matt, this prior pledge is not the same as we are talking about, because legal entities need to ‘join the club’ to benefit from the patent pledge. You are retaining the right to patent attack anybody who does not comply and join your alliance.”