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How Law Transforms Technology

How Law Transforms Technology

When I was young, technology always excited me. I vividly remember the excitement of Christmas morning opening gifts of the latest games console or gadget. Technology has moved on so much since the early nineties, but those early days triggered a continued interest in transformative technology.

Ideas that change the way we work and socialise still excite me and that is why I wanted to forge a career in technology law. I relish meeting clients who have identified an idea that could fundamentally change the “way things are done”. I can’t think of a time when clients are more excited to talk about their business.

And it’s why I am so pleased to speak at Aberdeen’s annual TechFest event on “How Law Transforms Technology”. In its 23rd year, TechFest celebrates the culture of innovation in Aberdeen, a city which I am proud to call my home, and a city which has so much to be proud of in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The foundations of Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry are built on innovation. Aberdeen has also fostered innovation through our second-to-none Universities, from  the work announced this year of  University of Aberdeen Professor Claude Wischik, who has invented a drug that can halt the progression of Alzheimer’s, to The Robert Gordon University being the first in the UK to offer a degree course in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.

It might seem odd to consider how law transforms technology? Surely the spark of imagination is really what triggers transformation? Of course that is true. However, without a legal system in place that incentivises, rewards and recognises the power of our minds, then technology advancement would not happen, or at least it would not happen at the pace that our country’s economy depends on.

Intellectual property law is where technology lawyers spend time considering how it protects their client’s business. But how does the law actually transform technology?

Intellectual property law works passively in many ways. It sits in the background, protecting innovation as it is created. Clients are sometimes surprised to hear that they have plenty of valuable intellectual property in their business despite not having patented technology.
Take for instance, the law of confidentiality. Generally speaking, confidentiality exists provided it is kept secret, and more helpfully recorded in some way. The power of confidential business information is often leveraged against competitors in court action. Recent European legislation has also given a statutory basis for confidentiality through recent trade secrets law.

The law is also mouldable. This has enabled the law to cater for technology not thought of when systems were first established. Take for instance, copyright law which traditionally protects written works like books and music. It still protects the works of JK Rowling and Adele. But copyright has moulded to now protect software, and more recently, mobile apps like Pokémon Go, or Uber. This is because the coding of software and apps are really written text.

This simplicity is something to be proud of in the UK because it also enables start up companies to develop products which can be exploited without the necessity of overcoming burdensome, expensive, legal hurdles.

Of course, for more complex technology, the law can offer even more formal protection.  Patents - often seen as the crown jewels of a business are a great example of where the law really does transform and super-charge technology. In obtaining a granted patent, your idea is disclosed to the world to generate further innovation. The quid pro quo of course, is that any use of the patent entitles the owner to financial returns in the form of royalties.
So, while the law will never be of any use without great game-changing technology, the law will continue, in my view, to operate to support our economy, especially in Aberdeen – a city of vibrant innovation.

As we look to future innovations like the opportunities presented by the Internet of Things with rapidly connected devices, and Industry 4.0 with the automation of industry through digital tech, the law will continue to mould itself to ensure our “bright sparks” keep being inspired.

Burness admin