By Simon Webster ‑ June 6, 2017
I was drawn to an article in The Economist regarding the current legal action between Uber and Google’s parent company Alphabet over self-driving car technology. Disputes over the misuse or misappropriation of intellectual property are, of course, not unusual. Clashes in the smartphone market are as old as smartphones themselves. Apple versus Nokia, Nokia versus Samsung, Samsung versus Apple; every major player in the smartphone market has spent time and money on disputes over IP.
As technology companies increasingly look to the automotive market to deliver future revenues, so the courts will fill up with IP disputes around self-driving cars.
We recently conducted a deep dive analysis into automotive patents to understand more about the future direction of this industry. The analysis – From Spark Plugs to Plug Ins - showed two major trends; talent was transitioning quickly between the IT and automotive industries, and competitors were increasingly becoming collaborators.
Self-driving cars are some years away from becoming a regular feature on the roads – there are still many regulatory hurdles to cross. However, the technology that facilitates autonomous vehicles actually helps drivers today. Features such as parking assistance, lane awareness, sensors that identify the distance between vehicles and predictive braking are all critical to self-driving cars. But these same technologies are also being deployed in current car designs to help make driving safer and easier today. Brands that invest in innovation have every right to protect that investment and be properly rewarded for their ideas. Nobody working in IP would argue any differently.
The real challenge is the discrepancy between the pace of innovation in a digital world (something I recently wrote about and you can read here), and the speed at which disputes over the ownership of innovation are resolved by the legal system. The pace of innovation is now faster than the courts and it could be argued that, in some cases, disputes that take years to resolve could do more than harm the parties involved. There is, in the case of automotive safety, the impact on public wellbeing too.
Let’s hope that a by-product of lightning fast innovation is that disputes are dealt with at a speed suited to the digital age.
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