Just a few days ago I was reading two of the 5 books in the Isaac Asimov's "Robot Series". This reading led me to several reflections. The first of these two books talk about what we normally know as science fiction. That is, a society in the future with many technological advances that we already have in our lives today or that we have clearly identified as part of what we expect is to be our future. The second book, "The Naked Sun", relates an interesting story about a planet far from the Earth in which the society has evolved in such a way that men and machines have a symbiotic relationship that allows a highly evolved society, although with some clearly identifiable problems.
What does these reflections bring to me? For many years we have talked about intellectual property as one of the legal tools we have in order to, in the one hand, protect creators, innovators and authors from illegitimate use by third parties, and in the other hand, to encourage innovation and development. This legal tool has evolved since the Venetian Statute in 1474 until today and has kept guaranteeing these two mentioned objectives: protection of creators and innovation promotion.
Intellectual property as a tool has been really useful and has wholly fulfilled its function insofar as it has been able to be updated in order to get, as close as possible, to the reality existing in each historical moment of the industry in our civilization. It is clear that, when intellectual property systems were created, they focused on the protection of inventions or technologies that were used at that time. Thus, intellectual property has been obliged to recurrently evolve to "catch up" with technological developments and therefore allow the correct protection of the progresses that have occurred since the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 18th Century. The firstly issued laws at the time were enough to protect the occurring inventions since developments were mostly of a mechanical nature. Decades later, new advances came into existence in the electrical and chemical industries, which forced intellectual property systems' protection scopes to evolve again in order to provide legal certainty for these new industries. The intellectual property systems remained that way for 150 years. They suffered fundamental technical changes that allowed the development and the progress of society (telephone, radio, electric light bulb, automobile, etc.) until the 1950's came around. This was the decade where the technologies related to nuclear power, solid state electronics, space exploration and the development of a newcomer - computer science - originated and ruled over the next decades. In 1981 significant changes happened thanks to the creation of the personal computer. That same year, the Internet Protocol (IP) protocol was defined for the computer interoperability and, 10 years later, the Internet concept was launched. By 1992, it was estimated that 1 million computers were already connected to "the cloud". The Computer Age had begun at a dizzying pace.
From that moment, changes and improvements in every field of technology have been constant, fast, and dramatic, up to the point where we can now consider that the almost linear evolution that the industry had from the 1700s until the end of the 1970s definitely faced a turning point. Today, technological development accelerates and grows exponentially. Multiple novel technologies appear in a few years or months intervals and disappear in the same way. Currently, the level of interaction that exists in the various technological fields is really surprising. We talk about mechanics, chemistry, electricity and electronics, but we also are incorporating novel words and topics such as telecommunications, connectivity, nanotechnology, materials technology, biotechnology, biology, robotics, cybernetics, wearables into our day-to-day talks. From the computers side, "novel" concepts such as Big Data, IoT, Blockchain, SaaS, Fintech, etc. are becoming part of our regular knowledge, not to mention the large amount of content that is increasingly reaching the digital environment. All these themes and concepts today interact and interconnect constantly. Each day it gets harder to find new technological developments focused on a single technological field. On the contrary, it is now common to see how multiple technologies closely interrelate in research projects. This makes necessary to have a broader scope of intellectual property rights protection and the possibility to fully exploit the existing legal tools. Clearly the boundaries between the physical, the digital, and the biological realms are becoming increasingly blurred.
Interdisciplinarity is today a trend that demands not only expertise of those who develop the technology, but also in who analyzes it, and in who decides if it is suitable or not of protection. In the same way, expertise is also required in all actors involved in designing the intellectual property laws that should offer legal certainty to authors, creators and inventors in order to continue recognizing their efforts in the innovation processes, protecting them from third parties' illegitimate use of their intellectual rights and, at the same time, motivating them to continue in a process of constant innovation and development.
At this point I refer again to how I started these reflections. With an already visible Fifth Industrial Revolution within which we are submerging almost without realizing it, and where there will be an in-depth collaboration between advanced technologies and humans, it is essential to make a very timely analysis of our current protection systems. The actual situation of technological and social evolution compels us to think outside the box. We need to decide, as participants within the global Intellectual Property protection ecosystem, whether we must continue to try to evolve our IP systems aspiring to catch up with the technologies, or whether we should act much more purposefully, changing our concepts and make a rethinking of the whole system and what "intellectual property" should mean in the future. We have to be aware that the ways in which we actually protect current technological developments are very far from being what will be needed in the years to come and as the years go by, they will move further away with increasing speed from the scopes of protection.
Software, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Business Methods and other trending technologies are not protectable by our current industrial property laws. Therefore, in a few years the still prosperous intellectual property system might become obsolete to the extent that the arising novel technological trends slip away from the protection scopes and from the legal certainty of intellectual property rights protection legislations.
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