Cloud-based file hosting giant Dropbox has patented a new synchronisation technology which could allow users to use a peer-to-peer network to securely share and collaborate on documents without the need to store them in the company’s centralised servers.

According to the company, the development of peer-to-peer distributed sharing could boost content download speeds, eliminating bottlenecks, ‘thereby increasing the speed at which the content items can be shared among individuals.’

The patent application, filed in 2014 and published in December, details how the system could allow back up to a range of media to multiple devices simultaneously, cutting the need for users to constantly upload and download from remote hardware.

dropbox-patentTo tackle syncing errors as a result of a group of people working on the same file at the same time, Dropbox security researchers Jesse Endahl and Anton Mityagin propose a new cryptographic key system. This design will signal which version of the file the user has and how it should be synchronised across the other devices.

‘…recipients can use the cryptographic key during peer-to-peer distributed sharing of the version of the content item among the user and the recipients in a shared network (such as an intranet and/or the Internet) without synchronization conflicts,’ reads the patent application.

In acquiring the patent, the company should be able to prevent competitors developing similar systems. The Dropbox technology will face popular transfer tool BitTorrent Sync as a top rival in the peer-to-peer exchange sphere. Since 2013 BitTorrent Sync users have been able to transfer huge files without needing to store them on external servers – in the same year it claimed to be seven times faster than Dropbox.

The new system should also make Dropbox much less legally accountable for the content shared using the service, for example it will reduce its liability for the exchange of copyright-protected material.

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