The fourth Industrial Revolution and its impact on intellectual property

The Internet of Things (IoT) will dramatically change how devices communicate and interact.  What implications does this have for intellectual property professionals in a fully connected world?


The fourth Industrial Revolution

One of the prominent topics at The World Economic Forum 2016 in Davos was what was dubbed as ‘the fourth Industrial Revolution’ – otherwise known as The Internet of Things (IoT).

The first Industrial Revolution came with the invention of steam and water powered manufacturing. The second was powered by the availability of electricity. In the 1970s the third came with the invention of IT. The fourth is arriving now – and is set to transform how the world works through technology.


The Internet of Things

Future growth in the internet will be driven by machines connecting to machines rather than machines connecting to people. This connectivity will dwarf today’s internet. Connected devices will be able to monitor our health and wellbeing, the functionality of our consumer goods, the way our cars are performing and even advise us when we need groceries.  Billions of devices will be internet enabled, collecting data that has both value to an individual and the capability to drive industry insight to create competitive advantage. Just as the digital age has changed business models forever, industries will be totally reshaped through insight from connected devices.

The IoT is a combination of hardware and software that monitors and communicates data, either for analysis or action. This might be something as simple as switching on heating remotely via an app to something as critical as live monitoring of blood pressure levels for patients. In each case, there will be something that needs monitoring, as well as a set of rules as to what action should take place if certain parameters are breached.


The role of the intellectual property professional in IoT

With so many new devices connected and collecting data, it is perhaps unsurprising that IoT applications will likely be based on common standards for hardware and software. Modern software development is increasingly collaborative, with companies and individuals working to rapidly create new software products and services. There will simply not be time to protect key technology iterations before they are out of date. Today’s rules around intellectual property creation and protection may not be viable in the IoT age.


The new business imperative

Companies are increasingly recognising that in the digital era business value will not necessarily come from the creation of new IoT products and services. The real value may come from the data that these new products and services record. Consider the business value for an insurance company of insight into how people drive and how aggregated data from thousands or millions of drivers increases the company’s knowledge. They can understand the risk profile of drivers both collectively and individually. They can identify highly accurate risk profiles across demographics, regions and ages. Acquiring the sources of data and the means to quickly and accurately manipulate them for competitive advantage is likely to be the new intellectual property frontline in the battle for supremacy in the IoT.