Verifying art collections, paying for books by the chapter, eliminating counterfeit pharmaceuticals and intellectual property rights for 3D printing. See also: what is Blockchain?

These are just some of the non-fintech use cases that ten companies pitched for blockchain (a way of storing information in digital ledgers shared by many parties) at London’s Digital Catapult last week.

© iStock Tim Arbaev

People beyond the financial sector are starting to see the potential of the technology to validate any type of transaction in a fast and secure way, as once information is entered into the public distributed ledger it cannot be altered.

Blockchain pitch-off

The event showed that development in the blockchain is still a way off maturity, but some startups are starting to develop viable use cases for the technology.

The blockchain is a type of public distributed ledger that relies on a decentralised network of computers to authenticate transfers. It is most notably used for the bitcoin cryptocurrency.

Read next: Why banks are betting on the blockchain - not bitcoin - to transform the financial sector

The problem was the speakers, particularly the Ukranian founder of the first pitch: Avalanchain, seemed to get bogged down by the technicalities instead of presenting how it works in practice, what the benefits are and if it is secure.

The future of blockchain: podcast discussion

Winners

The big winners on the night had two very different ideas: Blockverify and Smoogs.io.

By using QR codes and 2D barcodes Blockverify founder Pavlo Tanasyuk says the company will be able to authenticate luxury products and pharmaceuticals, cutting down on the $1.7 trillion in losses caused by counterfeit goods in the market every year. By placing the serialisation of items on the blockchain rather than a single centralised database the records can’t be attacked or altered by crooks.

Smoogs.io is looking to use blockchain to enable micro-payments for online content consumption. So for example, if you want to watch the last ten minutes of a film, or read one chapter of a research paper, but don’t want to pay for the whole piece of content, Smoogs.io will allow the content provider to charge a tiny fee, of which 5-10 percent will go back to Smoogs.io.

Naturally content aggregators, independent film platforms and small publishing houses are interested in what Smoogs.io can do. It’s worth noting that SatoshiPay is another company with a similar proposition and some good early traction.

Nearly there

Some of the other noteworthy pitches came from Creative Barcode and Trace.

Creative Barcode is building a blockchain record for intellectual property rights for unregistered design rights, a market that founder Maxine Horn believes will explode with the rise of accessible 3D printing.

Horn told the audience: "3D printing is going to disrupt the entire design and manufacturing sector. In the near future 3D printers will be affordable to consumers. So that's going to open up a whole new market to licence 3D designs, not just by businesses, but by consumers."

Read next: The Blockchain meets the IoT…and they swap numbers but don’t plan to pair up

Trace offers another specific application of the technology: using blockchain to help art dealers and galleries keep track of their collections and protect against counterfeits.

Founder Mohamad el Boudi said: "I want to build an open source standard for artworks which deploy smart contracts to recognise an intellectual property (IP) claim."

Losers

However some of the ideas were not as well thought out as these.

Bloxgame wants to use blockchain to make gambling more accessible to people that can’t set up an online gambling account because they don’t have a bank account. Why someone that doesn’t even have a bank account would be prioritising gambling online was beyond many of the judges.

Then there was IDeaoS (the ‘company’ nor its founder Ed Thurlow appear to have any web presence), which its founder describes as: “A crowd ontologised crypto investment fund.” 

Thurlow introduced IDeaoS by saying: “Timothy Leary called the computer the LSD of the nineties because it stimulated so much imagination and my idea is that blockchain is the LSD of the current era,” before presenting a range of tangential ideas that made the audience feel like they had taken a hallucinogenic.

I came away from the Digital Catapult thinking that everyone seems to agree that blockchain has the potential to transform the world. However, this room full of mavericks gave me the feeling that no one has an idea they could take to the enterprise or the public sector just yet.

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