Internet of Things is shaking things up in the manufacturing world

The Internet of Things is shaking things up in the manufacturing world – even for industry lawyers like Paul Voigt of Taylor Wessing.

Things are moving pretty fast these days. 3D printers can be purchased for home use for a mere 1000 US dollars. Looking at the car sector, self driving cars are now very much a real thing. Those are two examples out of many things that only five years ago were totally unthinkable.

Paul Voigt is a lawyer at international law firm Taylor Wessing with about 1 200 lawyers worldwide. Right from the get-go, Paul has followed and observed the dynamic and vibrant IT (and later IoT) part of the manufacturing industry.

And things in this sector are now happening almost at the speed of light.

Even across the traditionally conservative legal industry, processes are being digitalised. Legal advice is being outsourced to IT software – so-called ’Legal Tech’. A broad range of standard contracts can be churned out by algorithms. Two or three years ago, no one in the industry would have foreseen this development – and it’s already setting new industry standards.

Paul is based in Germany, which more or less puts him in the thick of things, as far as the manufacturing industry and the Internet of Things concerned. Internet of Things – or Industry 4.0 – has a strong connection with German industry. In particular, Germany has world-leading industry standards in the B2B part of Industry 4.0. This is in contrast to, for example, the United Kingdom, where the industry is largely focussed on services.

Paul Voigt is a speaker at the Copperbergs Conference of Things (Manufacturing), taking place in Stockholm on November 21-22, 2016.

With the effects of the Internet of Things spreading like wildfire, a number of legal questions must to be adressed. Obviously, one important aspect is the consequence of the use of personal data. Businesses are already using the new data to a large extent, be it to offer new services or to enhance existing ones, or to do profiling. To what extent this is possible would largely depend on national data protection law. The European Union is rather strict when it comes to businesses using personal data of device users. This is in stark contrast to, for example, the USA, where regulators take a less stringent approach. In Germany, however, legal disputes are arising everywhere all the time. Who is allowed to use personal data and for what kind of purposes? Can personal data be sold and purchased? Can others be excluded from using personal data? Are there intellectual property rights involved? Privacy rights? Basic questions of data protection that are constantly in dispute.

New IoT possibilities also mean a growing number of new legal challenges to tackle:

Due to the communication aspect that is necessarily involved, Industry 4.0 creates sizeable amounts of data. To whom does such data belong? And who can be held liable should things go wrong?

For instance, let’s think about a self driving car. Paul Voigt refers to an incident in the US earlier this year that has since been coined the ”Tesla death accident”, in which the driver of a self driving car was killed in an accident. 40-year old Joshua Brown of Ohio put his Tesla into autopilot mode which enables the car to control its own driving on highways. But against a bright spring sky, the cars sensors system failed to distinguish a large white 18-wheel truck and trailer crossing the highway. Instead, the car attempted to drive full speed under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Tesla Model S, killing the driver.
These kinds of incidents are very likely to cause caution amongst consumers that are otherwise very optimistic about the booming autonomous vehicle industry. And the legal consequences of these kind of incidents related to the Internet of Things are still quite unclear, Paul Voigt explains. New questions arise: who is to blame? Is it the driver, the car manufacturer, the person owning the car? Quite a number of very interesting legal issues are involved. And exceeding their legal implications, how we answer these questions as a society will coin the way that we will be heading in the future.
With IoT travelling at the speed of light to revolutionise the way we think about technology, those people thinking that its legal ramifications are just a small niche for specialists may well have to rethink very soon.