Accelerating successful innovation in the connected digital economy

December 8, 2014 Leave a comment

The above titled event, which I attended in November, was just one in a month-long series of high profile launch events for the UK’s Connected Digital Economy Catapult (aka Digital Catapult Centre). As you might imagine this event was designed to bring together the right mix of entrepreneurs, digital start-ups, academics and financiers for a day of insightful presentations, conversations and networking about the UK digital economy.

Digital Catapult

The event was organised by BCS Entrepreneurs, in collaboration with the Digital Catapult Centre, and it featured 3 themed sessions on: Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), and Finance for entrepreneurs. These hot topics provided the framework for many interesting viewpoints and discussions on how best to accelerate digital innovation and keep the UK at the forefront of the unfolding digital revolution (click here to see videos). Some highlights and key takeaways include:

  • Innovation opportunities abound– The speakers described or demonstrated a plethora of novel concepts, products, services and emerging uses for such things as: big data / analytics, wearable technologies, smart city technology and ubiquitous connected devices / sensors / actuators (aka “Internet of Things). The abundance of new digital products, services, capabilities, and behaviours are self-propelling and accelerating their own evolution;
  • The demographic skew- Digitally enabled independent living and age related health care solutions are set to grow dramatically over the next few years – A few presentations touched on the challenges and opportunities presented by an aging “baby boom” generation to their “digital native” inheritors, and conclude that the demographic time-bomb is well and truly ticking down the minutes to a seemingly inevitable conclusion – from baby boom to ka-boom!
  • Universities lead the way- For example, University College London’s UCL Decide program provides a ready test bed, (with a potential captive test population of 35,000 staff and students), that can be deployed to put any digital offering through its paces before launch. Such Institutions of higher learning are increasingly leading the digital gold rush by providing fertile breeding grounds for more digitally savvy entrepreneurs (i.e. those people formerly known as graduates);
  • Pervasive Smart City tech – One speaker described the ability to leverage open street data, transport network information, air traffic control and meteorological data to provide real time city simulations which, in conjunction with virtual / augmented reality and gesture based controllers, can present any city as a living, breathing digital organism. Smart City visualization and logistics solutions on display point the way towards a pervasive cloud of data and technologies with which city dwellers in the not-too-distant future can carry out their day-to-day activities including: planning / transport / communication / collaboration;
  • Funding models abound– The panel on “Raising Finance” featured speakers from: venture capital, angel investment, banking, grants and crowd funding organisations. They represented different styles, types and stages of financing available for high-growth companies or start-ups. One audience member questioned why grant funding was so complex that it required 3rd party organisations to help would be entrepreneurs, to which the panel responded that government was “institutionally incapable of providing anything simple” – Enough said.

Anything that simplifies and facilitates entrepreneurship, such as government backed Digital Catapult Centres, can only be a good thing in my book.

Overall, I thought this event was a great introduction to the Connected Digital Economy Catapult Centre, staff and attendees, but the real star of the show for me was the venue: a purpose built facility for open, collaborative innovation and entrepreneurship which is aptly located in the heart of London’s emerging Knowledge Quarter, surrounded by world class institutions such as: the British Library, Wellcome Trust, Turing Institute (for Big data), the Crick Institute (for Genetic Research) and University of London.

The organisers (i.e. BCS Entrepreneurs and the Digital Catapult Centre) are very keen to work with entrepreneurs, service providers, financiers and academic institutions to create innovative digital solutions that make the most of opportunities in the digital age. This is also reflected in a growing corporate appetite for collaborative innovation, as evidenced in the likes of Capgemini’s Co-innovation Labs and other such corporate innovation ventures / hot houses and incubators. For any would be entrepreneur, these are exciting times indeed!

Copyright and technology: glass half full or half empty?

October 11, 2014 Leave a comment
following on from my last post about IP and Digital Economy, I’d like to focus this one on the evolving role of copyright in the digital economy. What are the key recent developments, trends and challenges to be addressed, and where are the answers forthcoming? Read on to find out.
Picture5-md
Where better to start than at the recent Copyright and Technology 2014 London conference in which both audience and speakers consisted of key players in the intersection of copyright, technology and digital economy. As you can probably imagine such a combination provided for great insights and debate on the role, trends and future of copyright and digital technology. Some key takeaways include:
  • The copyright yin and technology yang – Copyright has always had to change and adapt to new and disruptive technologies (which typically impact the extant business models of the content industry) and each time it usually comes out even stronger and more flexible – the age of digital disruption is no exception. As my 5 year old would say, “that glass is half full AND half empty”
  • UK Copyright Hub – “Simplify and facilitate” is a recurring mantra on the role of copyright in the digital economy. The UK Copyright Hub provides an exchange that is predicated on usage rights. It is a closely watched example of what is required for digital copyright and could easily become a template for the rest of the world.
  • Copyright frictions still a challenge – “Lawyers love arguing with each other”, but they and the excruciatingly slow process of policy making, have introduced a particular friction to copyright’s digital evolution. The pace of digital change has increased but policy has slowed down, perhaps because there are now more people to the party.
  • Time for some new stuff – Copyright takes the blame for many things (e.g. even the normal complexity of cross border commerce). Various initiatives including: SOPA & PIPA / Digital Economy Act / Hadopi / 3 strikes NZ have stalled or been drastically cut back. It really is time for new stuff.
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Source: Fox Entertainment Group

  • Delaying the “time to street” – Fox describe their anti-piracy efforts in relation to film release windows, in an effort to delay the “time to street” (aka pervasive piracy). These and other developments such as fast changing piracy business models, or the balance between privacy vs. piracy and technologies (e.g. popcorn time, annonymising proxies, cyberlockers etc.) have added more fuel to the fire.
  • Rights Languages & Machine-to-Machine communication – Somewhat reminiscent of efforts to use big data and analytics mechanisms to provide insight from structured and unstructured data sources. Think Hadoop based rights translation and execution engines.
  • The future of private copying – The UK’s copyright exceptions now allow for individual private copies of owned content. Although this may seem obvious, but it has provoked fresh comments from content industries types and other observers e.g.: When will technology replace the need for people making private copies? Also, what about issues around keeping private copies in the cloud or in cyber lockers?
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Mutant copyright techie-lawyer

In conclusion, and in light of the above gaps between copyright law and technology, I’ve decided that I probably need to study and become a mutant copyright techie-lawyer in order to help things along – you heard it here first. Overall, this was another excellent event, with lots of food for thought, some insights and even more questions, (when won’t there ever be?), but what I liked most was the knowledgeable mix of speakers and audience at this years event, and I look forward to the next one.

Intellectual Property and Digital Economy

September 30, 2014 1 comment

In line with my previous theme of Intellectual Property (IP) and the digital economy, this post looks at a recent Position Statement which I helped to draft for the BCS Chartered Institute for IT.

As you may know, one of the core values or mission of the BCS is to advance the role of IT in bettering society, business, education and the economy, and what better way to do this than by suggesting ways in which IP could work better in the evolving digital economy.

Some key issues highlighted in the position statement include:

  • The rapid pace of technology change often leaves behind the Intellectual Property (IP) construct which was created to provide economic benefit for the creators, authors, inventors and owners of related IP
  • An enormous amount of money is spent annually on IP related litigation (particularly when IP is viewed and used as a tactical weapon). This could be better spent building the right system in the first place
  • According to BCS feedback from the 2013 Parliament and Internet conference, intangible and virtual goods online extend to more than just music, written word or software – I’m thinking about the Internet of Things too
  • Also, The EC announced an initiative to define a position on taxation of the digital economy – this gets very interesting when you try taxing something like Bitcoin!
In light of such issues, the BCS position tries to define the best approach to tackling these and other major issues, as well as providing a sense of perspective to the unfolding drama of IP and digital economics. Key messages from the Position Statement include:
1. Global IP must evolve to meet the needs of a digital age global economy, particularly with regards to:
  • Creating a feedback mechanism to regulate the impact of IP changes on the digital economy, in a transparent manner.
  • Developing fast, automated and dynamic IP mechanisms to cope with blurring boundaries of IP (e.g. for emerging trans-media content), and surge in high-volume / low-value transactions online.
  • Keeping everything in context, because society is still at a very early stage in understanding and adapting to changes introduced by digital technology – digital IP is in a period of transition without any appreciable end state to speak of.

2. BCS understands the need to ensure all 5 digital stakeholder groups (i.e. the creator, commercial, consumer, technology and governance stakeholders) are consulted, engaged and involved in the creation of digital IP structures for the future. BCS has representative groups and forums that cover all 5 stakeholder groups of interest.

3. The UK is in a great position to play a leading role in helping define new digital IP measures and structures for the digital economy – it has the capability and resources, economic motivation and political appetite, as well as the credibility to build on its historical provenance for introducing far-reaching IP mechanisms e.g. Statute of Anne (aka the world’s first copyright law).

In conclusion, I believe this is a fairly sensible position in what is ultimately a moving feast of change for society at large. However, there are no foregone conclusions on how digital IP will play out in the long run, no least because everything is still up for grabs as the debate rages on.

Ps. I will be looking to carry on this conversation at the Copyright and Technology 2014 conference in London on the 1st of October, where I’ll be chairing a panel debate on the Challenge of Online Piracy. More on this soon…

Internet of Things = Internet of Trust

September 18, 2014 Leave a comment
That was one of several key observation from yesterday’s event at the BCS Chartered institute of IT. Others include a warning about Internet of fake Things as well as the critical role that you, the user, must play in order to ensure Things don’t get out of hand, so to speak. Read on to find out more…

IoT1

The sold out event started with an overview of Cisco’s initiatives and activities around the Internet of Things (IoT), which were vividly described by Sarah Eccleston, (IoT Director at Cisco). Covering everything from cows to ice cream, health monitoring to supermarket supply chain optimisation, she painted a picture of a future with IoT which is already starting to happen right now.
This was followed by a note of caution from Martin Lee, (Cisco threat intelligence), who warned that ungoverned, exponential growth of IoT devices and services could lead, among other things, to an “Internet of Fake Things”. According to him, now is the time to steer IoT development toward a safe and stable direction for the benefit of all.

Antonis Patrikios, (Director at FieldFisher), spoke about the legal aspects of IoT and privacy, as well as the need to ensure that IoT works for the benefit of people. He described IoT as the “Internet of Trust” because that is what will be needed to enhance user experience and address key legal challenges such as user privacy and the fact that “IoT is global, but the law is not”.

Finally, the University College London (UCL) provided a glimpse of real IoT projects developed by UCL post graduate students using Microsoft technology. They described realistic usage scenarios and demonstrated the ability to organise groups of Things, controlled via a “Captain” device, to support multiple uses of the same Things (or groups thereof). E.g. the same Captain device in a hospital room full of Things could service the use cases of multiple stakeholders, including the: doctor, patient, family members, building security and hospital administrators.

In the end, all speakers seemed to agree that the combination of IoT and Big Data will be THE game changer in the next wave of computing. There was a certain buzz in the air, as attendees and speakers discussed the possibilities and challenges posed by IoT. One show of hands survey indicated that attendees thought the Internet of Things was at least as significant as, if not more so than, the advent of the original Internet. It was also felt that user education, (e.g. by the IoT service providers, “Thing makers” and their collaborators), would be key to the success and acceptance of IoT by the general public – people are genuinely concerned about their privacy, personal safety and security.

To conclude, IoT is an exciting yet scary proposition, which is set to fundamentally influence the way we interact with information and the world around us. I hope we can get it right.

The right to be forgotten, but not forgiven.

July 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Just as with getting tattoos or removing them, (hint: both equally painful experiences), the furore over a recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on the “Right To Be Forgotten”, (aka #RTBF), appears to be one that will hurt regardless of which end of the ruling you support. Why is this so, what does it mean, and is it even possible to forget anything on-line?

RTBF-handshake-md

Enough time has passed between the ECJ announcement in May and the initial stormy reactions from both mainstream and social media, that it is now possible to perceive the wood for the trees and to separate fact from fiction and fantasy.  First of all, this is about safe guarding individual rights to privacy, and providing some measure of control over the personal data processed by Internet search engines (Google in this case). It is definitely not about erasing personal data from the web, as you might have been led to believe from the initial hue and cry following the announcement.

Secondly, the ruling left it to individuals to approach the search provider and request removal of links to information which are “inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant or excessive” from results of searches conducted on their name. However, it is up to the search engine provider to work out if it is appropriate to remove or retain said links, in the public interest. In the latter eventuality, the individual can chose to take the search provider to court in his/her national jurisdiction.

Also, several developments have occurred since this landmark ruling was made in favour of Mr Gonzalez vs. Google Spain, including the take-up of such requests by Microsoft’s Bing search engine. However, according to an article on IP-Watch, this ruling is akin to opening Pandora’s Box because it throws up a host of challenges, such as:

  • Privacy versus free speech – the ruling effectively asks search engine providers to make a judgement call on two competing rights of free speech versus privacy. This arguably goes against the raison d’être of search engines as trusted source of comprehensive search information, and not selective parts thereof.
  • Lost in Translation – The Right to be Forgotten is now accepted as a European Principle, but it is still open to subtle differences in translation, interpretation and implementation among the various member states. Furthermore, because this ruling only applies to Europe, the removed links may still show up in other countries, unless #RTBF becomes a globally adopted principle or if the search provider decides to remove the search links globally. It is thought this differentiation could lead to fragmenting of the web in various jurisdictions.
  • #RTBF overload – Requests to remove links to personal information hit over 70,000 within the first few months of the ruling, which undoubtedly placed some burden on Google (and likely do so eventually for other major on-line players such as Facebook), but perhaps more importantly this also provides an indication of the sort of personal information that people wish to delete (see related article about removed links).
  • FUD Factory – The scale of coverage, and misinformation, associated with this ruling is huge according to international advocacy group, EDRi. They also contend that the number of links removed by European Right to be Forgotten is nothing compared to the scale of DMCA triggered links removal, where it appears Google has had to delete “hundreds of millions of search results” without anywhere near the same level of attention.

Based on the above observations, it seems an element of perception manipulation may be at play with regards to the European Right to be Forgotten, especially given its lack of global scope and the fact that only links are removed (not the actual content). This gives individual requesters some illusion of control over information in a media (the Web) that is not necessarily designed to be manipulated as such. Furthermore, search engines may be an unfair, easy target since removal of links only make it more difficult, but not impossible, to locate users personal information even within Europe.

This ability to control access to personal information may be a good or bad thing, depending on who is looking and why. Everything rests on the motive of the searcher or ‘hider’ of personal information. Paedophiles, terrorists, ex-convicts, or even drunken antics in Magaluf, may wish to be forgotten, but is that beneficial to the interests of potential employers, neighbours or partners? Do we need to know everything, or should we all have some kind of adjustable online reputation filter? What about privacy and forgiveness for reformed offenders? So many questions and not enough answers, as we continue to evolve into a global digital society, but whatever the outcome the signs are clear that the debate and tension between free speech and privacy is far from over.

Image source: Adapted from © Atee83 | Dreamstime Stock Photos.

Free, your new IP strategy: is this the future of Intellectual Property and Innovation?

June 26, 2014 1 comment

I came across a blog post about electric automaker Tesla’s recent move to open up its patents by making them free to use by anyone, including competitors. According to founder, Elon Musk, “Technology leadership is not defined by patents, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers.”

Tesla-specs

I believe that while this move may have multiple strategic intent, (i.e. Tesla could have other IP cards up their sleeve), it also highlights limitations in the current systems of Intellectual Property, and it’ll require a fundamental shift in philosophy to fully appreciate where such trends could take us.

Obviously, I admire Tesla’s creativity and innovation, not least because their eco-friendly cars do not remind me quite so much of badly constipated turtles, but because their sheer guts and willingness to take risks (aka multiple leaps of faith) puts them ahead of the curve.

If technology leadership is no longer defined by a sizeable IP portfolio, then this presents some very real challenges to various foul strategies and current sharp practices for IP, such as: “weaponised IP”, Patent Trolls, industrial espionage, and so forth. According to author Don Peppers’ blog post on the topic, such “open source” and “free revealing” (aka free sharing) of otherwise competitive IP assets actually drive innovation “while patents, copyrights and other legal mechanisms seem to be holding us back.”  He goes on to say: “This is big, everyone. If you don’t know how big this is, you haven’t been paying attention.”

In my opinion, a mindset of “share first then ask questions after” is vastly superior to the usual scarcity based approach to wealth creation, (i.e. “mine, mine, all mine” is not real wealth, just an illusion). True wealth, which is firmly based in abundance, actually favours the sharing mindset by motivating and empowering bright creative people to continue to do and share what they do best. Such a system fosters innovation, and is ultimately self replenishing, because it forces organisations to ensure they maintain the right ingredients to continue being innovative.

In such a world, an organisation may be deemed a failure when it no longer has the ability to innovate, regardless of the size of its bank balance, market capitalisation or IP portfolio. Instead, successful organisations will be ones which can establish and demonstrate a self-perpetuating culture for creativity and innovation. Such bold claims do however raise some serious questions over IP, e.g.:

  • Should IP be granted with implicit right for others to use and reuse by default, (along with fair recompense or royalty to the owner)?  And if this were feasible, would everyone play by the rules?
  • Are we likely to see a situation whereby IP may be rescinded from organisations that do not actively use them to innovate? I can already imagine Patent Trolls, and their IP lawyers, screaming in anguish at the thought.
  • If free sharing of IP became common practice, will it ultimately diminish the value of IP, and its raison d’etre, (i.e. a means to provide direct economic reward for creators and owners of IP)?  Bear in mind that creators and owners of IP are not always one and the same.

These and other similar questions easily rise to the fore when you extrapolate the developing trend for free IP sharing and their implication for both individuals and organisations. The preceding points / questions are not solely relevant to organisations. Individuals, particularly those in the creative arts (e.g. authors, musicians and other artistes), are also affected especially as they increasingly chose to explore alternative funding models to finance their works.

TV presenter and author, Kate Russell (of BBC Click fame) takes it a step further by advocating the creation of new IP models based on crowd funding in her recent BCS blog post. Her exact words were: “With the online world still in freefall about how to solve digital rights protection and make sure artists get paid fairly for creative works, I genuinely believe that crowd funding could form the groundwork of a new intellectual property model”. In my opinion, this is another example of the shifting mindset that will ultimately bring about the evolution of a more suitable IP system for the digital world of today and tomorrow.

Fighting Piracy with Education

May 11, 2014 Leave a comment

According to a BBC news report, it seems that a deal to tackle digital piracy is about to be realised between major UK ISPs and key content and entertainment industry organisations. Given that it took several years of wrangling to get to this point, the obvious question is whether this particular deal will work to the satisfaction of all concerned?

Education versus Piracy

The report describes how the UK ISPs (i.e. BT, Sky, TalkTalk and VirginMedia) will be required to send ‘educational’ letters, or alerts, to users they believe are downloading illegal content. Among other things, the deal is predicated on the belief that increased awareness of legal alternatives will encourage such users away from illegal content acquisition, casual infringement and piracy. This voluntary alert system will be funded mainly by the content industry who in return will get monthly stats on alerts dished out by the ISPs. Overall, this deal is far removed from the more punitive “3 strikes” system originally mooted in the early days of the Digital Economy Act.

As with most cases there are 2 or more sides to the story, and below are some considerations to be taken into account before drawing your own conclusions, including:

1. Critics of this deal, i.e. presumably the content providers, will consider this too soft an approach to be effective in curbing the very real and adverse economic impact of piracy.

2. Supporters, including ISPs, will likely see this as fair compromise for securing their cooperation in tackling piracy, and a win-win for them and their customers.

3. Another perspective comprises the view of regulators and government intermediaries (aka brokers of this deal), who likely consider it a practical compromise which can always be tweaked depending on its efficacy or lack thereof.

4. There are probably many other viewpoints to be considered, but, in my opinion, the most important perspective belongs to the end-users who ultimately stand to benefit or suffer from the success or failure of this initiative, especially since:

  • there is evidence that education trumps punishment when it comes to casual content piracy – e.g. the HADOPI experience in France which has effectively evolved into an educational campaign against copyright infringement.
  • content consumers already have far too much choice over the source and format of content anyway, so punitive measures may not necessarily solve the piracy problem, if they can get content via other illegal means.
  • any perceived failure of this deal, and its ‘educational’ approach, could lend support for more draconian and punitive measures, therefore it is in the interest of consumers to see it succeed.

5. Industrial scale piracy, on the other hand must be tackled head-on, with the full weight of the law, in order to close down and discourage the real criminal enterprises that probably do far more damage to the content industry.

In any case, regardless of how you view this and other similar developments, it is always worth bearing in mind that we are only in a period of transition to a comprehensive digital existence, therefore all current challenges and opportunities are certain to change, as new technology and usage paradigms continue to drive and reveal ever more intriguing changes in consumer behaviours. This battle is far from over.

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