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At a recent International Copyright Technology Conference in Seoul, Korea, I gave a talk on the “Future of Intellectual Property.” Leading up to the event my research led me to conclude that today’s IP laws, systems, and processes are not designed to handle the issues we’ll be facing with technologies next wave.

One example I used came from the highly publicized introduction of A.I. music using Sony’s Flow Machine software where it listened to all of the music recorded by the Beatles and produced a new song, “Daddy’s Car,” in their same style.

Naturally this led to more questions than answers.

1.)  Ten years from now if consumers are given a choice between A.I. generated music and human composers, which will they choose? Keep in mind A.I. music can be produced as hyper-personalized one-of-a-kind songs.

2.)  Will A.I. generated music be “owned” by the person running the A.I. software?

3.)  How will they establish their claim of “ownership” in an all-digital music environment?

4.)  If the A.I. generated music is based on past music from Fleetwood Mac, Rickie Lee Jones, Beyoncé, or the Beatles, do they deserve royalties for these derivative compositions?

Naturally we’re just getting started with this line of thinking.

Every person is radiating information every hour of every day. Just as the information we mentally emit can be logged and constitute the basis for a copyright or invention, the information we physically emit has value.

Tiny bits of human intelligence go into every online search, transaction, and ad click. This information is so valuable that once fed into a preference engine, a full one third of all Amazon sales come from “other recommended” products.

Material information about what we eat, our physical activities and even the people we hang out with can be hugely valuable to insurance companies, online retailers, healthcare providers, and ad placement services. Should the value of our physical information be automatically assigned to us or those who collect the information?

Both personal and intellectual property is getting harder to define, manage, and control. It is in this perplexing quandary of rights and ownership that we begin this column.

Intellectual Property and Ownership Issues Bubbling to the Surface

Future IP issues will be focused on ownership, privacy, and freedoms as legal systems attempt to reimagine themself with entirely new technologies that fit poorly into the existing frameworks.

It’s often been said that quantum computing will give us the ability to rethink the very building blocks of the universe so it’s no wonder that we’ll also have to rethink the rights of creative individuals.

Over the coming years we’ll have to wrestle with the changing nature of “property.”

  • Accelerating Timelines – The half-life of most products today can be measured in months not years. In the future it may even be reduced to days and perhaps even hours.
  • Digitalization leads to Dematerialization – At what point does less material constitute a new innovation?
  • Innovation is being Parsed into Far Smaller Pieces – Innovation today can be as small as a single emoticon, hash tag, or idea. Tomorrow, perhaps a single byte.
  • Shrinking Timeframe of Value – In the past, most of the value of a patent was derived in the last few years of its term. With digital technology it tends to come with first mover advantage up until advanced competitors arrive.
  • Shift from Ownership to License Holders – In a sharing economy, ownership becomes far less valuable than the right to distribute, the right to sell, and the right use. As example, Uber owns no vehicles, Facebook creates no content, Alibaba has no inventory, Airbnb owns no real estate. Will this growing mirage of ownership require a different kind of license?
Our “property” involves far more than what we can see with our eyes
Our “property” involves far more than what we can see with our eyes

Rewriting the Rules with Emerging Technology

At the forefront of this transition are a number of emerging technologies, and rest assured, I’m just scratching the surface of challenging issues ahead. The technologies listed below are just a few that come to mind, and yes there will be many more to come.

Driverless Technologies – Within ten years it will be common to hale a driverless car on our smartphones, much like we do with Uber and Lyft today. But the data surrounding both the transaction and inside-the-car activities have great value.

5.)  Can autonomous car companies sell photos of occupants, announce when famous people will be arriving somewhere, or monitor if riders may be doing something illegal?

6.)  How much data surrounding the trip can car companies collect? (i.e. ages of occupants, music listened to on the trip, hair colors, eye colors, style of clothing, heart rates, and how many times riders use words like “totally” and “sweet”)

7.)  Will riders automatically waive their rights to avoid advertisements? Do they have the right to ride in an ad-free environment?

8.)  With competition coming on many fronts, how much of the “ride experience” will car companies be able to protect? Will they be able to patent, copyright, or trademark the level of privacy, its sound, texture, smell, taste, or harmonic vibration of the ride?

Sensor Networks – Over a trillion sensors are predicted to be collecting and distributing information over the next decade.

9.)  Do we have the right to control, monitor, and delete data collected from our personal sensors? (i.e. When we buy sensor-infused clothing in the future, it may already come with a built-in data distribution network that we automatically agree to with the purchase.)

10.)  With more data comes more definition. Will we soon be able to trademark our signature personality traits like our dance moves, hand gestures, ear wiggle, or laugh?

11.)  Once we start tagging valuable objects, vehicles, and devices that we own, how will we prevent our “ownership network” from being hacked, monitored, or outright stolen from us?

12.)  What exactly will ownership mean in an era where physical products are replaced by digital ones and our ability to share, distribute, assign, and license are just a tiny fragment of the options available through our constantly morphing digital rights?

Internet of Things – As I like to say, the Internet of Things is all about “devices talking to devices, talking trash about other devices, spreading rumors and lies about other devices.” Naturally this leaves us with a few questions.

13.)  When we own a smart refrigerator, do our insurance companies have the right to monitor our diets and feed the data into their latest actuarial tables?

14.)  If we use “mood-casters” to interface with the buildings around us, can the meta-data surrounding our attitudes and temperaments be scraped, used, and repurposed by building owners and neighboring occupants?

15.)  Will my IoT devices become searchable? Yes, being able to search the contents of my refrigerator while I’m at the grocery store may be convenient, but it also has the potential for being highjacked by marketing companies, headhunters, and political adversaries.

16.)  Does my IoT pot have the right to call my IoT kettle black?

3D Scanning & Printing – With changes happening almost on a minute-by-minute basis, the 3D printing industry is on the verge of becoming one of the largest industries on the planet.

17.)  Who owns the rights to our digitally scanned bodies? Who else can and will have access to them?

18.)  Will someone who wants to buy me a pair of hyper-personalized shoes as a present have access to my foot-scans? Will this type of permission also give access to other marketing companies?

19.)  When I grow older and 3D printed organs, body parts, and entire replacement bodies become available, will I be buying or licensing the replacement body parts? Can they be repossessed for lack of payment?

20.)  Having doctors monitor our replacement body parts remotely may sound convenient, but who will have access to the data? And will there be an off switch?

Contour Crafting – Created as a large-scale form of 3D printing, contour crafting is now viewed as a disruptive technology poised to revamp the entire construction industry.

21.)  What features in a printed house will be patentable? Printed cabinets? Printed insulation? Artistic walls? Printed solar roofs?

22.)  What tools will designers use to protect unique features such as lighting and audio configurations, elevator styles, sensor networks, and the operational characteristics of appliances?

Flying, Driving, Swimming, Crawling Drones – While flying drones are constantly in the news, drones are robotic vehicles with far more capabilities than simply flying. They can also roll along the ground, stick to the side of a building, float in a river, dive under water, jump onto a building, climb a tree, or attach themselves like parasites to the sides of trains, ships, and airplanes. Future drones will be designed with a wide range of complex capabilities, and these capabilities will dramatically change our understanding of privacy, personal space, and proximity-based rights.

23.)  Who owns information collected by drones, and who else will have access?

24.)  Does an open window somehow mean that it’s a public place and drones can fly in? Where do property lines begin and end? Where does personal space begin and end?

25.)  Will people have the right to “shoot down” or otherwise destroy unlicensed or “trespassing” drones?

26.)  What are the legal privacy barriers that will protect people from drones with cameras and audio scanning capabilities as well as drones equipped with a variety of other types of sensors? Should we have a Drone Bill of Rights?

Virtual & Augmented Reality – Both VR and AR are Internet-sized opportunities on the verge of exploding around us.

27.)  Do “real world” augmented reality game designers have the right to include the general public as unwitting participants in their games?

28.)  Who owns the “reaction data” in VR simulations? How a person reacts to specific situations can be incredibly valuable data.

29.)  Will VR experiences be patentable, copyrightable, or protectable in any way?

30.)  What is the proper term for a VR creation – a video, a game, a simulation, an experience, or something else?

Artificial Intelligence – With A.I. we stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. Microsoft even claims to have breakthrough A.I. technology for reprogramming cells back to a healthy state, and has announced they will be able to cure cancer in less than 10 years.

31.)  Will AI systems replace our need for human drivers, musicians, and doctors?

32.)  Can we reprogram our cells to cure most major diseases as Microsoft and others have proposed?

33.)  Will we “buy” the cure or just “license” it? Can we “gift” it to others?

34.)  Can an A.I. “entity” be copyrighted, trademarked, licensed, or sold?

Cryptocurrency – Currently over 3,300 cryptocurrencies are being tracked around the world.

35.)  At what point will cryptocurrencies become more stable than most national currencies? NOTE: Bitcoin is already more stable than some.

36.)  Who is in charge of solving cryptocurrency-related crimes like theft, counterfeiting, or fraud?

37.)  If I take out a loan in cryptocurrency, such as a house loan in Bitcoin, and the cryptocurrency collapses, is the debt still owed?

38.)  If I’ve stored all my cryptocurrency on my smartphone, and I lose it, is the money recoverable?

Future Search Engines – In the grand scheme of things, search engines are still a prehistoric technology. Quantum computing will soon give us the ability to define, test, and search for a variety of new physical and digital attributes. These include attributes like smells, tastes, barometric pressure, harmonic vibration, reflectivity, textures, and specific gravity.

39.)  When it comes to definable sensory creations like tastes and smells, will we soon be able to protect them with patents, trademarks, copyrights, or something else?

40.)  Can other definable attributes like harmonic vibration, reflectivity, and textures also be trademarked in a form similar to “sonic branding?”

41.)  How long will it be before we create “attribute scanners” to log our daily experiences in a way that will also make them searchable?

42.)  When will we see an artificial nose more accurate than a bloodhound? How long before someone creates the periodic table of smells?

The value of our information is directly proportional to our earning power!
The value of our information is directly proportional to our earning power!

Final Thoughts

As we move into a globally connected world with borderless communications and borderless economies, whose authority will come into play?

Due to a lack of any true global authority, tech companies like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter have been forced to define their own code of ethics, deciding what is or isn’t fair use or original content.

In this role of them serving as quasi-governmental agencies, they have begun arbitrating digital rights issues with their own terms of service agreements that virtually no one ever reads. When the European Union ruled that people have the right to be forgotten, the terms of service agreements were altered to include that provision.

For this reason, tech companies have broad overarching powers to decide who and what is searchable, findable, and promotable. Since we see growing issues surrounding privacy, data collection, and distribution, they will also have the ability to influence, manage, and even control many of the data markets moving forward.

While we will have a bright future ahead, the challenges should never be underestimated.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Epiphany Z – 8 Radical Visions for Transforming Your Future

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