June 29, 2016 Articles

Making Sense of "Things" in a Programmable World

Lessons from the smartphone patent wars and how they may apply to future IoT-related litigation

By Peter H. Hanna

The Internet of Things (IoT) is, well, the next big thing. To be sure, smartphones took us a long way toward our interconnected destiny, but the Internet of Things will take us to the end of the rainbow: a place where all our devices and belongings are smart enough to communicate with and instruct each other autonomously, and are even smart enough to adapt to changing conditions in the world around us. All in pursuit of making our lives better. 

Or  that is the hope. While many of the technologies needed to power the Internet of Things already exist, we still need these technologies—which range from embedded sensors to micro- electromechanical systems—to converge and work together seamlessly. We still have a long way to go before that happens and much to figure out before any mildly utopic IoT vision comes to fruition. Thousands of engineers and scientists around the globe are working to develop the tools needed to make our interconnected destiny a reality, driving a surge in efforts to obtain patent protection for IoT protocols, platforms, and systems. As that is happening and more connected devices hit the grid, important legal issues are already beginning to percolate at the intersection of law and the Internet of Things—questions that will challenge our notions of privacy, data ownership, and intellectual property. With some global analysts projecting that there will be one trillion Internet-connected consumer and industrial devices in use worldwide by 2025, the time to consider how the Internet of Things will affect the legal and patent landscape is not 2025, but today. Fortunately for us in the patent realm, we have some guidance and precedent to draw on from the last great (and fairly recent) tech revolution: smartphones.  

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