Blockchain was the technology story of 2017, as the paradigm shift that has been gathering among developers for several years finally hit the mainstream.
News organisations have devoted much time trying to explain to the general public these new virtual concepts including cryptocurrencies, smart contracts and initial coin offerings (ICOs). Riding the crest of this wave is Bitcoin, the first cryptocurrency with mass appeal, and a name that trips off most people’s tongue when this topic comes up.
While Bitcoin grabs the headlines, there is a much bigger and deeper movement taking shape which will reach into every aspect of the global economy, re-shaping the way most people and organisations think about and approach B2B and B2C interactions.
The way in which payments, transactions and record keeping are handled is set to change dramatically with two concepts central to this shift – decentralisation and transparency.
The Ethereum Foundation is a major driver behind the decentralisation movement and has changed the game further and faster than any other project so far. By creating a shared global infrastructure that it calls a blockchain app platform, it allows start-up crypto businesses to build out their operations on top of the existing Ethereum blockchain. It also allows users to create their own coins or tokens for fundraising purposes and develop smart contracts to handle transactions.
Ethereum is the most exciting development yet in this space and has the potential to really pull blockchain technology into the mainstream proper. It is built around the tenets of secure, anonymous, tamper proof and unchangeable and has enabled a vast range of start-up businesses to threaten the existing paradigm.
Examples include Uport, which allows users to take complete control of their identity and personal information. Instead of relying on government institutions and surrendering their identities to third parties, users control who can access and use their data and personal information.
There is also Provenance, which uses Ethereum to make opaque supply chains more transparent. By tracing the origins and histories of products, the project aims to allow consumers to make informed decisions when they buy products.
The fact that this technology can be used across such a wide range of existing industries means that lawyers and other professionals need to understand how it applies to them. It is clear that smart contracts will begin to replace traditional forms of contract in some cases, but the real question here is how the concept of ‘code is law’ adopted by programmers fits in with traditional contract law?
Lawyers must also consider how disputes will differ when smart contracts are involved, understand which jurisdictions they will be judged under and how decentralisation and transparency will affect contract negotiations.
Beyond that there are new entities such as the Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) and new ways of fundraising such as Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and Token Generating Events (TGEs).
Professionals must understand how these work, how they will be treated by regulatory bodies and how existing legal and professional services can adapt to serve them.
The following discussion draws on the expertise of IR Global’s commercial lawyers to drill down into cryptocurrency and blockchain developments in an effort to answer these questions. You will hear from ten experts in nine different jurisdictions – Switzerland, UAE, USA, Singapore, Luxembourg, Brazil, Slovakia, Germany and The Netherlands.