The IP of things

As the interconnectivity of technology envelops the world, those involved in intellectual property are considering its possible implications

With the advent of the internet, the world entered a new age of global interconnectivity. Now, the internet of things (IoT) promises to once again to reshape how we use technology.

The IoT, in essence, is everyday household objects becoming connected via the internet, allowing them to transmit and receive data.

The Amazon Echo is an extreme example of the technology’s current capabilities.

Armed with an Amazon Prime account, users can ask Alexa, the name given to the Echo’s personal assistant, to order any product online.

Users will not need to open an app or look at a screen—the entire transaction will be completed through a conversation with Alexa.

This sort of interconnectivity is not limited to traditional internet-enabled devices such as tablets. Indeed, lights, fridges, coffee machines and more are all coming to market with connectivity capabilities, promising a future ‘internet of everything’.

The rise in interconnectivity between technologies raises questions in the intellectual property world.

Like the smartphone before it, the IoT has the potential for an enormous amount of collaboration, but it could also invite competition, some of which will be unfriendly.

Eric Schulman, principal at Fish & Richardson, says that because of the IoT’s broad technological footprint, there is increased potential for patent litigation, including from patent assertion entities (PAE) keen to secure new sources of licensing revenue.

With a near historic high in terms of patent applications filed and granted, as well as an interesting development in the increase of patent applications filed in China, Schulman foresees the IoT extending its footprint to IP Initiatives such as the LOT network that have emerged to protect inventors in an increasingly litigious world.

The LOT network promises to reduce patent litigation from PAEs to zero for the life of a patent belonging to a fellow member that sells that patent to a PAE.

Schulman says that LOT “can significantly reduce legal costs associated with these new technologies”.

“The likes of the LOT network are narrowly tailored to address the PAE problem, while preserving the real business uses of patents.”

But Tina Shappel, associate general counsel at Intel Corporation, says that the IoT has the potential to transform “virtually every sector of our economy”, and warned against competition getting the better of innovators.

Shappel says that the IoT necessitates the building of a “collaborative innovation ecosystem on a scale unlike anything before”.

“No one company can build the IoT alone. It requires collaboration, strong collaboration, among many. Companies from traditionally different industries must now work together,” she explains. “We can no longer be isolationists. We must collaborate and innovate together to make IoT a reality.”

Shappel recognises that the IoT relies on the convergence of technologies, but she adds: “While smartphones involve the convergence of hundreds or thousands of technologies, the IoT involves the convergence of far more.”

“Anytime you have this kind of convergence, the potential for an explosion of patent litigation exists,” Shappel explains.

“Because the technology moves faster than our legal and regulatory systems, it is important that we consider how best to enable this dynamic new future.”

This sort of rapid convergence may lead to an “explosion” in patent litigation and other litigious actions, Shappel acknowledges.

It could also present increasingly difficult challenges for patent systems, she says.

Enforcing patent protection worldwide and proper rewards for patent owners, while also ensuring that innovation isn’t damaged by remedies that “overvalue one innovation and undervalue the contribution of thousands of others in a product”, will be difficult in this new world.

Shappel says: “As the Industrial Revolution changed how we lived and worked, this will fundamentally revolutionise everything from transportation to medicine to the environment to our homes. Even industries as old as farming are being dramatically altered by the availability of such big data analytics.”

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