In a bold move emphasizing the principles of open source and open standards in the web3 ecosystem, Nick Johnson, lead developer of ENS, penned an open letter to Unstoppable Domains (UD) regarding its pursuit of patents related to blockchain domain names.
ENS and Unstoppable Domains are decentralized domain name systems built on blockchains. ENS simplifies cryptocurrency transactions by replacing complex addresses with human-readable names. It also supports decentralized websites and accessing IPFS content using ENS names. The native name suffix is (.ETH), ensuring blockchain-native security.
On the other hand, Unstoppable Domains offers blockchain-based domain name extensions, allowing users to replace complex addresses with user-friendly names. These domains are owned without recurring fees and are represented as NFTs, granting complete ownership and control. Wallet addresses are replaced with readable domain names, enabling transfers of public keys or domain name assets, with private key access limited to the owner.
According to Nick, ENS, founded in 2017, has always supported open innovation, providing all its work under open-source licenses and making standards publicly available for implementation. In contrast, Unstoppable Domains has chosen to pursue patents despite professing support for open innovation.
He added that despite ENS’s efforts to engage in meaningful communication with Unstoppable Domain, the impasse has led to the publication of the open letter, urging Unstoppable Domain to recognize the importance of permissionless innovation and open standards in the evolving web3 landscape.
Earlier this year, according to Nick, Unstoppable Domain was granted its first patent (US11558344) titled “Resolving Blockchain Domains.” The lead developer said that this patent is based entirely on innovations developed by ENS, lacking any novel contributions from Unstoppable Domains. In addition, Unstoppable Domains is actively pursuing additional patents, one of which involves reserving names.
This patent application reflects a strategy similar to the traditional DNS “Sunrise Phase.” In the domain industry, the Sunrise Phase typically refers to a pre-launch period during which trademark holders have the opportunity to register domain names before they become available to the general public.
Nicks highlighted that while Unstoppable Domains issued a press release pledging its first patent to the Web3 Domain Alliance, an industry group founded by Unstoppable Domains, ENS is skeptical about the legal enforceability of such pledges.
To address this concern, ENS is requesting Unstoppable Domains to add legal weight to its commitment by making an unconditional and irrevocable patent pledge. This would involve a binding agreement that ensures the pledged patent remains dedicated to the stated purpose, aligning with the sentiments expressed in UD’s press release.
He noted that this proposed legal commitment aims to ensure that Unstoppable Domains’s ownership of these patents does not hinder innovation in web3 naming. By allowing the defensive use of patents while pledging not to assert them against others in the field, Unstoppable Domains can contribute to maintaining an open and innovative environment in the rapidly evolving web3 space.