Australian National Blockchain ‘smart contract’ consortium eyes 2020 product launch

IBM-, Data61-backed consortium incorporates, prepares for pilot

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A consortium that brings together IBM, CSIRO’s Data61 division and international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills to develop blockchain-based services is preparing to launch its first product this year.

The trio announced the launch of Australian National Blockchain (ANB) in August 2018, with the consortium focused on building a platform that would allow businesses to take advantage of self-executing ‘smart contracts’.

The group said that its “smart legal contracts” (SLCs) would run on their blockchain platform and have clauses that could be triggered by an Internet of Things (IoT) sensor or similar external source of data. ANB is using IBM’s blockchain platform, which is available from the vendor’s Australian data centres.

Computerworld can reveal that the ANB collaboration in November 2019 was incorporated as Digital Law Technologies. The move to incorporate followed a series of design-thinking workshops and proof-of-technology work.

“Since forming the company, Digital Law Technologies has successfully completed a prototype which will be the foundation of a pilot program scheduled between January and June 2020, with a limited product release scheduled for later in 2020,” a spokesperson said.

The group is working with a “number of law firms and publicly traded corporates who will be a part of the pilot program”.

The ANB 2018 launch statement said that it would build “the first large-scale, publicly available blockchain solution available to businesses of all kinds across Australia, and designed for Australian legal compliance”.

“Technologies like blockchain are set to transform the legal industry and the wider business landscape as we know it,” Herbert Smith Freehills’ blockchain and smart legal contract lead, Natasha Blycha, said at the time.

“This presents a huge opportunity for agile and forward-thinking firms and has potential to deliver significant benefits to our clients and the business community as a whole.”

“Our clients are enthusiastic about process automation, and how it can support a move away from paper-based systems, simplify supply chains and quickly and securely share information with customers and regulators,” Blycha said.

Data61 in 2017 released two major government-commissioned reports addressing the potential use of blockchain-style technologies in Australia. Distributed Ledgers: Scenarios for the Australian economy over the coming decades (PDF) noted that contracts are “arguably neither smart, nor contracts” but “essentially programmable transactions (sometimes referred to as programmable money) that automate business processes.”

The report suggested that “automated contract tools” or “automated transaction tools” may be less confusing: Depending on their construction, smart contracts may not in themselves be legal contracts per se, but may still be a useful way of executing the provisions of a contract.

“Defining contractual performance in software requires prudence and forethought. Hundreds of years of case law, legal tests such as ‘the reasonable person’ test, and the chaotic nature of real-world events and human frailties present an environment that is impossible to entirely emulate in code,” the report cautioned.

“This software is not a contract in reality, and ideally should exist wrapped within a legal framework that links the code with a contract.”

Australia is home to a number of high-profile efforts to build enterprise-grade blockchain-inspired systems, including exchange operator ASX’s project to replace one of its core platforms with distributed ledger technology (DLT).

ASX is building a platform that it hopes other enterprises will use to run their own blockchain-based applications.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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