The article written by José Angelo Estrella Faria, the secretary general of the UNIDROIT, entitled "Uniform Law And Functional Equivalence: Diverting Paths or Stops Along The Same Road? Thoughts on a New International Regime for Transport Documents" 2 Elon L. Rev. 1 is excellent.
The author notes that in order to emulate the function of a bill of lading as a document of title in electronic environment, it is necessary to ensure that only the person recognized by a registry as the rightful "holder" is entitled to claim delivery of the goods. Here, he is only restating a widely supported proposition.
What is interesting, though, is that he goes on to observe, "[a]t least in theory, the same result could also be achieved if computer technology were able to create a 'unique' electronic record that could be exclusively held by a holder and transferred to another without replication at some point down the negotiating chain." Later in the same article, the author also states, "[o]ne conceivable model, for instance, might rely on a technical device that would assure the uniqueness of an electronic record to allow the record itself to be 'passed' down a negotiation chain." To this sentence, he attaches a footnote stating "[s]o far, however, computer technology has not yet been able to create such a 'unique' electronic record, which means that electronic negotiability systems continue to rely essentially on electronic registries." The author could hardly be blamed for not mentioning the blockchain technology since this article was published in February 2011, a few years before the technology has come to be widely known outside the circle of computer specialists. Now in 2015, the blockchain technology has been tested enough through the bitcoin to inspire confidence in saying that it is at least as secure as any registry based system (See also my earlier post).