Posted on 28/1/2021

Establishing ‘Proof of Life’ in the Information Age

WIPO has released an online service called WIPO PROOF allowing users to evidence their digital files.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has released an online service called WIPO PROOF which enables you to create evidence of a digital file at a specific point in time. It can also be used to establish whether or not the digital file has been altered since that time.

Why would you need evidence of a digital file?

Digital content is now being created at an unprecedented rate. Digital content can be or include things that are immediately recognisable, such as music, photos, literary works such as books or screenplays, audio-visual works, films and other creative works, to more pragmatic content such as databases, client lists, research results or other business records.

All of this digital content can be valuable and therefore these ‘digital assets’ of a person or business should be protected.

The more traditional IP rights (e.g. patents, trademarks, designs, copyright) are less well suited to protecting digital assets because it is often the content of an electronic file or document that has value.  This value may lie in establishing the contents of a digital asset and the date at which the digital asset was created. That value may be greatly enhanced if the date of creation and tamper-proof evidence of the content of an electronic file or document can be established.

Recognising that there may be gaps in the existing forms of protection and that digital content needs to be protected, WIPO PROOF was developed to be used alongside traditional IP rights. Upon its release, the then WIPO Director General Francis Gurry explained:

“In a highly dynamic global economy where value is increasingly based on human activity enabled by digital technologies and big data, it is critical to be able to prove that you were in possession of your intellectual asset’s digital files. WIPO PROOF helps innovators and creators better protect their digital outputs and represents a significant step in expanding WIPO’s suite of services that meet the demands of the digital economy.”

How does WIPO PROOF work?

WIPO PROOF is an online platform that produces a token, a date-and time-stamped digital fingerprint of the file or data. WIPO PROOF tokens can be purchased one at a time, or in bundles valid during a two-year period at a reduced cost per token.

The cost of an individual WIPO PROOF token is 20 CHF (approximately £16), and the cost per token decreases when bought in bundles.

WIPO PROOF uses Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) technology which is a well-established and reliable cryptographic technology that is one of the most internationally accepted and recognised digital certification methods to produce the WIPO PROOF tokens.


The WIPO PROOF system allows selection of a digital file, in virtually any format. The web browser on the user’s machine then produces the unique digital fingerprint, known as ‘a hash’. The original file is not uploaded and is processed in place on the user’s machine. The hash is then timestamped. Following the timestamping, the hash is then signed with a private key to create a digital signature and a public key is added to the digital signature to form the WIPO PROOF token.

The WIPO PROOF token is then downloaded and stored with the original digital file.

As the hash is simply an electronic fingerprint, it is not possible to read or recreate the original file from the hash.

Importantly, in order to verify the WIPO PROOF token and an associated digital asset, a user will need access to the original file and the corresponding WIPO PROOF token. According to WIPO, ‘if the original file has been modified, even slightly, or if the WIPO PROOF token has been altered, the digital asset will not be verified’.

The WIPO PROOF system provides a reliable, easy to use and relatively inexpensive way of authenticating your electronic assets to provide not only proof of existence of a digital asset but also means to manage iterations of a digital asset if needed.

If you have any further questions about WIPO PROOF, or would like to discuss whether your assets may be better protected by formal intellectual property protection, please get in touch to speak to one of our attorneys.

Wilson Gunn