USPS application

The US Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application on August 13 owned by the United States Postal Service (‘USPS’).  The disclosed invention would incorporate Blockchain technology into a vote-by-mail system.  Blockchain is the technology used to implement cryptocurrencies and other types of secure transactions. Blockchain allows digital information to be recorded and distributed, but not altered, which is what makes it useful.  

In the system of the USPS patent application, a voter receives a ballot by mail with a computer readable code.  The voter scans the code with his or her smartphone, makes ballot selections, and digitally signs and submits the selections.  The voter’s identity and ballot selections are stored by the voting system in separate databases in a blockchain. The voter can access his or her ballot to make sure it was entered, but the actual selections of the voter are separated from the voters’ identity and are anonymous.  The blockchain prevents altering the results later.

We can infer that the use of the physical mail helps to verify that the ballot actually goes to the intended voter, because it is physically delivered to the voter’s address. The USPS system would require a level of sophistication from voters, including owning a smartphone or other device and having a digital signature.  The USPS blockchain system is not in operation now and will have no effect on the U.S. elections in barely two months.

Other countries have experimented with blockchain to secure elections, notably Russia, and not without security issues.  While the ‘election’ to keep Putin in power forever was never in doubt, it nonetheless succeeded in leaking personal data of over a million Russians.

Incidentally, the USPS has an extensive patent portfolio and is the assignee of some 809(!) issued patents and published applications. That’s a lot. Why?  To improve its eroding competitive position with respect to competing delivery services, of course. A few examples:

US9336510 ‘System and method for providing real-time tracking…’

US8494826 ‘Systems and methods for analyzing equipment failures…’

US8340978 ‘ Method and system for cross-carrier parcel tracking’

The US Postal Service as a patenting powerhouse.  Who knew?

— Robert Yarbrough, Esq.