Author: Maria Silvia Martinson, lawyer at RestMark METIDA
Imagine a world where right after waking up in the morning, your bed would adjust itself to the best position for you to lie in depending on the different pressure points. Your hi-tech watch would then inform you: the sensors have established that your blood pressure is slightly lower than recommended and you should have some breakfast. A yoghurt with some muesli would be a good choice, since according to the data gathered from the kitchen appliances, the last cup of yoghurt in the fridge expires today. It would also be a nice quick breakfast since you need to be at work in 77 minutes and the traffic jams are starting to build up – the calculations based on your usual „get ready“ routine in the mornings show that you would only have 4 minutes for breakfast before having to leave for work to be there exactly on time. Scratch that – only 2 minutes, because there has been a small accident on the main road and traffic is slower than initially expected.
Although the previous description of events seems like a section taken out of a science fiction book, it is likely to become our reality within the next decades. Our new reality will be formed by the Internet of Things (IoT), which revolves around machine-to-machine communication in addition to „regular relationships“ between humans or humans and machines that we are accustomed to. Although the IoT has been given several different definitions, in principle it is the interconnection of different devices which are able to collect and exchange data. A prerequisite for that to happen is a network connection – it has even been said that if a device (or a „thing“) has an on-off switch, it can probably be part of the IoT.
We can already find many objects in our everyday lives that have IoT qualities. Most common of them are so-called smart home devices which can be controlled remotely, such as automated lights, air conditioning, robotic vacuums and ovens. However, there are so many other physical objects that already have been or could be embedded with sensors and actuators in the future. The perspective of the IoT is not the fact that individual devices can be connected to a larger network of devices, but rather the possibilities such a network can allow. The devices in the IoT system are not only able to become aware of different situations and analyse them, but they can also perform actions, which leads to automation and better solutions due to quick in-depth analysis followed by fast reaction time.
For example, the benefits of the IoT in health care cannot be overestimated – the sensors make it possible to monitor patients in real time and discover or even avert different health problems. It would allow the prevention of diseases to become the main perspective instead of dealing with the aftermath. Additionally, the IoT would be a big step in environmental monitoring because sensors could assess the atmosphere, quality of water etc, making it possible to predict optimal environmental behaviour and lessen the response time when a catastrophe strikes. And, since one of the aims of the IoT is to make our lives more convenient, we would surely appreciate the comfort of smart parking, smart traffic control and of course maintenance services scheduled in a way that would least effect our usual habits.
The IoT is definitely the next big thing – some experts have estimated that the IoT will consist of nearly 50 billion objects by the year 2020. The European Union has invested 192 million EUR in the IoT research and development for the period of 2014–2017 and launched several programmes (such as the H2020 programme) for the same cause. The IoT has raised the stakes for tech companies worldwide, the question being when and who will create something exceptional that will take the game to the next level? The number of patent applications filed for IoT related inventions has been on a constant rise for many years, although some of them may not even fit the criteria for patentability in many parts of the world due to being „software patents“. Currently, according to a study conducted by LexInnova, the companies with the greatest number of IoT patents are chip-makers Qualcomm (724) and Intel (688).
But patentability is not the only issue at hand when it comes to the IoT – there are still many questions regarding the legal framework of this phenomenon, especially privacy and security related questions. To which extect the collection of data and communication of said data can be considered lawful and from which point an obvious invasion of privacy? How do we find the right balance? Additionally, if everything will be connected to everything, is it even possible to ensure the security of those systems? Exceptional developments such as the progress of the IoT always bring with them an array of questions left to be answered. Whether those answers will satisfy us or not – only time will tell.