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Intellectual Property for Start-Ups

October 28, 2016 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate, as chair & speaker, at a BCS Entrepreneurs event discussing the role and value of Intellectual Property for start-ups and entrepreneurs. As you might imagine this was a well attended event with so many different questions foremost on the minds of various attendees.

Given the focus on my favourite topics of IP and entrepreneurship, it didn’t take much persuasion for me to sign-up and chair the event. Furthermore, I was in the company of two legal experts on: EU IP law (Jonathan Exell, from William Powells) and employment law (Bob Fahy, from Veale Wasbrough Vizards) respectively. Also the attendees were certainly not shy to engage and they took some delight in systematically dissecting the trickier aspects of entrepreneurship and the start-up vs. IP challenge in a changing landscape. 

As introduction and kickoff, I provided a quick overview of some of those key challenges facing startups with respect to IP. This was mainly based on a previous post and article I’d written and published about this same topic. 

The first speaker followed through with a thorough recap of the legal position on IP particularly with regard to the EU and Brexit. Key message: it’ll likely be business as usual for IP in post Brexit UK, at least in the near term. Also, it is highly unlikely that the UK will deviate too radically from the increasingly aligned position on IP  which most of the world enjoy today.

The second legal perspective provided some insights on key challenges and opportunities facing anyone trying to manage the IP risks and issues associated with employees, disgruntled or otherwise. Here the lines become somewhat blurred between contract vs. employment vs. IP laws. It was interesting to observe the number of questions relating to how founders should approach the challenge of establishing who has what IP (and / or portions thereof) when their start-up fails, flounders, or even flourishes!

To say this event was informative and enlightening would be an understatement because the second part of the seminar consisted of 1-to-1 mentorship sessions, with experienced BCS mentors exploring attendees individual circumstances in order to provide specific guidance based on the topic at hand. Pure value delivered, if you ask me. As an exercise in giving back, I can think of no better way to spend an evening than by learning, interacting and exploring various start-up IP challenges with enthusiastic entrepreneurs, mentors and experts from within and outside of the BCS.

One thing I love about my work is how it affords me unfettered opportunity to give back, by providing dedicated time (and a measurable objective) to undertake pro bono activities, such as this one, which is aimed at helping others in need of expertise or guidance for projects, worthy causes or personal development. Pure Ohana!

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The Tech Start-Up’s IP Dilemma

September 4, 2016 Leave a comment
When it comes to tech entrepreneurship, a good Intellectual Property (IP) strategy will often play a critical role in the difference between unbridled success versus failure-inducing infringement lawsuits. How should technology entrepreneurs and start-ups approach the difficult task of balancing IP protection vs. commercialization considerations in the dynamic, financial and geo-political landscape of today?

In the face of recent global financial meltdowns, migrant refugee crises, global terrorism and regional upheavals (e.g. BREXIT), things may become exponentially more complicated. In terms of IP, the key question for many high-growth start-ups is how to negotiate the daunting landscape of protocol, jurisdiction and regulatory compliance requirements for each new market that they penetrate.

3 key factors, in my opinion, need to be taken into consideration when attempting to address these particular challenges as follows:

Pay to play – The digital world has ushered in a shift from transactions to a more interaction based economy. According to Constellation Research Principal, Andy Mulholland, three distinct types of time-zone based interactions can be recognized in this new environment. They comprise of: reflex interactions (e.g. autonomous machine to machine interactions); service based interactions (i.e. multiple, coordinated services interacting to deliver value to customers / subscribers / end-users); and finally, cognitive interactions (delivering enhanced value as part of a ‘smart’ system and ecosystem).

Changing of the Guard – IP is a moveable feast, and sooner or later any proponent of “free-to-use” IP soon become vigorous advocates of IP protection once they start producing their own. Nations that were once net consumers of IP, with scant regard for anti-piracy measures, will often become rabid defenders of international IP laws when they start producing more IP than they consume. The same applies to start-ups who initially think nothing of appropriating other people’s IP in other to create or enhance their own products / services, but then go on to spend oodles of funding money with top IP lawyers to protect or defend their IP as they mature.

Caring, sharing, gig economy – The last point is very much about the real cost of freedom and flexibility. The so called “Gig economy”, which offers short term roles for hordes of contingent workers (aka ‘micro entrepreneurs’), has been popularised by the likes of Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo, because they promise a greater degree of freedom and flexibility than traditional employer / employees models. The new gig economy players typically provide a platform for exchanging goods and services, but sometimes this can verge on the traditional ’employee’  domain, (e.g. wearing uniforms with the platform providers logo), instead of an independent provider. This blurring of lines could be interpreted by many as an attempt by platform operators to have their cake and eat it, and this has contributed to the recent spate of high profile law suites and demonstrations by irate contingent workers. Such disruptive business practices bring to mind the threat posed to traditional content industries by file sharing platforms such as: Naptster, Grokster, Pirate Bay and Megaupload, who all got sued to smithereens. The sad thing is that such repercussions, if unchecked, can serve to dampen the innovative vigour of said ‘gig economy’ platform operators. A middle ground must be found where it will be possible to explore the frontiers of the new gig economy without trampling over the rights of its participants. The promise of freedom and flexibility alone may not be worth the pixels through which it is displayed.

In conclusion, when it comes to startup entrepreneurship in today’s world, it takes a certain level of awareness to negotiate the myriad challenges facing new innovative / disruptive entrants to most markets. One of the key criteria for success, (in addition to having the right ideas, resources, team and opportunity / timing), is the presence of a good strategy for intellectual property and how it can be employed to the benefit of the organisation. It is no accident that California USA, with its high concentration of IP based industries, is the 6th largest economy in the world, therefore it goes without saying how important it is for startups to identify and protect any IP assets, right from the start.

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Disclosure: The above post is derived from a soon-to-be-published article in the next edition of BCS Digital Leaders newsletter. Also the topic of start ups and IP will be the focus of the next BCS Entrepreneurs speed mentoring event which I’ll be chairing in the next few weeks.

Block Bits and Chain Coins: The Trust Machine Jigsaw

April 1, 2016 3 comments

The topic of Bitcoin, and other cyber currencies, as well as the underlying Blockchain technology is still top of mind for various industries, with frequent: events, blog posts, articles and sundry news items firmly focused on them.  I have also contributed to the deluge with a recently published article in the BCS ITNow magazine, as well as a forthcoming event on the “darker side of Internet technology”, but more on that later.

Last week I attended a BCS London Central event about Bitcoin technology “that could change the world”, featuring Simon Taylor, VP Entrepreneurial Partnerships at Barclays bank. As you might imagine, banks and other financial institutions are at the cross-hairs of any impending / potential disruption by Bitcoin and its Blockchain technology. Given the history of other similar disruptions in other industries, many financial institutions have been quick jump into the ring in order to figure out the best way to take advantage of the new challenge / opportunity rather than just sit back or ignore it.

To this end, Simon did a great job shedding some light on key initiatives by members of the financial services, (including banks and Barclays in particular), on the topic of Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. My top take-aways from the event include:

  1. Building Blocks – Bitcoin is great, but platforms like Ethereum have really made Blockchain relevant for organisations to build their own applications – i.e. by providing the Lego building blocks for creating useful applications for the banks of tomorrow.
  2. FUD still rules – Opinions differ and people argue as to just what is Blockchain. Is it just the underlying technology used for Bitcoin, or does it include other incarnations and applications of similar mechanisms? A lot of confusion is being caused by misconceptions around Blockchain – e.g. “people keep coming up with Blockchain ‘solutions’ for just about anything”. However, if you do use Bitcoin based solutions, you must beware of implications for data protection, Safe Harbour and industry regulations.
  3. Using a hammer to crack a nut – Simon questioned whether it was really necessary to put up with the immense overhead required for permission-less ‘proof of work’ systems such as Bitcoin, when the faster permissioned versions could be just as effective, albeit with a certain degree less end-to-end security, integrity and non-repudiation capability in comparison to Bitcoin.
  4. Bitcoin keys can also be lost or stolen – Blockchain does not provide a solution for key management, so How can this be mitigated. This could be a potential role for trusted intermediaries, such as banks.
  5. Q&A: How can other organisations (e.g. NHS) successfully leverage such tech? – Simon’s advice to the NHS Director in the audience was to get educated on the topic and then experiment like mad. Barclays does this by first creating an experiment script or hypothesis then outsourcing the work to local / friendly start-ups for rapid turnaround. The resulting outcome is then studied and pulled apart by multi-disciplinary experts from Barclays (e.g. compliance / risk / security teams) before a recommendation is made. Most other industries can follow this model.

Overall, I thought this was a good event which was well attended by a very engaged 100 strong audience. The chosen topic and focus also made a perfect setup for the aforementioned BCS “Darkside” event which is scheduled to take place on 26th April, and features some excellent speakers and their perspectives on the seamier sides and uses of Bitcoin and Blockchain technology. Don’t miss it!

 

More Perils of Reusing Digital Content

February 7, 2016 1 comment
Some time ago I wrote an article and blog post entitled “the perils of reusing digital content” looking at the key challenges facing users of digital content which thanks to the power of computing and the Internet has become more easily available, transferable and modifiable. It says a lot about the age in which we live that this is still not universally perceived to be a good thing. It also explored the Creative Commons model as a complementary alternative to a woefully inadequate and somewhat anachronistic copyright system in the digital age. Since then the situation has got even more complex and challenging thanks to the introduction of newer technologies (e.g. IoT), more content (data, devices and channels), and novel trust / sharing mechanisms such as blockchain. 


I’ve written a soon-to-be-published article about blockchain, from which the following excerpt is taken:  “Blockchains essentially provide a digital trust mechanism for transactions by linking them sequentially into a cryptographically secure ledger. Blockchain applications that execute and store transactions of monetary value are known as cryptocurrencies, (e.g. Bitcoin), and they have the potential to cause significant disruption of most major industries, including finance and the creative arts. For example, in the music industry, blockchain cryptocurrencies can make it economically feasible to execute true micro-transactions, (i.e. to the nth degree of granularity in cost and content). There are already several initiatives using blockchain to demonstrate full transparency for music payments – e.g. British artiste Imogen Heap’s collaboration with UJO Music features a prototype of her song and shows how income from any aspect of the song and music is shared transparently between the various contributors.”


The above scenario makes it glaringly obvious that IP protection in digital environments should be focused more on content usage transparency rather than merely providing evidence or enforcing copying and distribution restrictions. The latter copy and distribute restriction model worked well in a historically analog world, with traditionally higher barriers-to-entry, whereas the former transparent usage capability plays directly to the a strength of digital – i.e. the ability to track and record usage and remuneration transactions to any degree of granularity, (e.g. by using blockchain).


Although it may sound revolutionary and possibly contrary to the goals of today’s content publishing models, in the longer term, this provides a key advantage to any publisher brave enough to consider digitising and automating their publishing business model. Make no mistake, we are drawing ever closer to the dawn of fully autonomous business models and services where a usage / transparency based IP system will better serve the needs of content owners and publishers.


In a recent post, I described a multi-publishing framework which can be used to enable easier setup and automation of the mechanisms for tracking and recording all usage transactions as well as delivering transparent remuneration for creator(s) and publisher(s). This framework could be combined with Creative Commons and blockchains to provide the right level of IP automation needed for more fluid content usage in a future that is filled with autonomous systems, services and business models.


DRM for Things – Managing rights and permissions for IOT

November 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Given the proliferation of interconnected ‘Things’ on the Internet (aka IoT), it was only a matter of time before the pressing need for robust, pervasive governance became imperative. How can we manage the rights and permissions needed to do stuff with and / or by things? The following are some thoughts, based on a previous foray into the topic, and building on my earlier book on the related world of Digital Rights Management (aka DRM).

Does anyone remember DRM – that much maligned tool of real / perceived oppression, (somewhat ineptly deployed by a napsterized music industry)? It has all but disappeared from the spotlight of public opinion as the content industry continues to evolve and embrace the complex digital realities of today. But what has that got to do with the IoT, and what triggered the thought in the first place, you might ask…

Well, I recently had opportunity to chat with friend and mentor, Andy Mulholland (ex global CTO at Capgemini), and as usual, I got a slight headache just trying to get a grip on some of the more esoteric concepts about the future of digital technology. Naturally we touched on the future of IoT, and how some current thinking may be missing the point entirely, for example:

What is the future of IoT?

Contrary to simplistic scenarios, often demonstrated with connected sensors and actuators, IoT ultimately enables the creation and realisation of a true digital services economy. This is based on 3 key aspects of: ‘Things’, ‘Events’ and ‘Connectivity’ which will work together to deliver value via autonomous agents, systems and interactions. The real players, when it comes to IoT, actually belong outside the traditional world of IT. They include organisations in industries such as manufacturing, automotive, logistics etc., and when combined with the novel uses that people conceive for connected things, the traditional IT industry is and will continue to play catch up in this fast evolving and dynamic space.

What are key components of the IoT enabled digital services?

An autonomous or semi-autonomous IoT enabled digital service will include: an event hub (consisting of graph database and complex event processing capability) in the context of ‘fog computing‘ architectures (aka cloud edge computing) – as I said, this is headache territory (read Andy’s latest post if you dare). Together, event handling and fog computing can be used to create and deliver contextually meaningful value / services for end users. The Common Industrial Protocol (CIP) and API engines will also play key roles in the deployment of autonomous services between things and / or people. Finally, businesses looking to compete in this game need to start focusing on identifying / creating / offering such resulting services to their customers.

Why is Graph Database an important piece of the puzzle? 

Graph databases provide a way to store relationships in an unstructured manner, and IoT enabled services will need five separate stores for scaled up IoT environments, as follows:

  1. Device Info – e.g. type, form and function, data (provided/consumed), owner etc.
  2. Customer/Users – e.g. Relationship of device to the user / customer
  3. Location – e.g. Where is device located (also relative to other things / points of reference)
  4. Network – e.g. network type, protocols, bandwidth, transport, data rate, connectivity constraints etc.
  5. Permission – e.g. who can do: what, when, where, how and with whom/what, and under what circumstances (in connection with the above 4 four graphs) – According to Andy, “it is the combination of all five sets of graph details that matter – think of it as a sort of combination lock!”

So how does this relate to the notion of “DRM for Things”? 

Well, it is ultimately all about trust, as observed in another previous post. There must be real trust in: things (components and devices), agents, events, interactions and connections that make up an IoT enabled autonomous service (and its ecosystem). Secondly, the trust model and enforcement mechanisms must themselves be well implemented and trustworthy, or else the whole thing could disintegrate much like the aforementioned music industry attempts at DRM. Also, there are some key similarities in the surrounding contexts of both DRM and IoT:

  • The development and introduction of DRM took place during a period of Internet enabled disruptive change for the content industry (i.e. with file sharing tools such as: Napster, Pirate Bay and Cyberlockers). This bears startling resemblance to the current era of Internet enabled disruptive change, albeit for the IT industry (i.e. via IoT, Blockchain, AI and Social, Mobile, Big Data, Cloud etc.)
  • The power of DRM exists in the ability to control / manage access to content in the wild, i.e. outside of a security perimeter or business boundary. The ‘Things’ in IoT exist as everyday objects, typically with low computing overheads / footprints, which can be even more wide ranging than mere digital content.
  • Central to DRM is the need for irrefutable identity and clear relationships between: device, user (intent), payload (content) and their respective permissions. This is very much similar to autonomous IoT enabled services which must rely on the 5 graphs mentioned previously.

Although I would not propose using current DRM tools to govern autonomous IoT enabled services (that would be akin to using yesterday’s technology to solve the problems of today / tomorrow), however because it requires similar deperimeterised and distributed trust / control models there is scope for a more up-to-date DRM-like mechanism or extension that can deliver this capability. Fortunately, the most likely option may already exist in the form of Blockchain and its applications. As Ahluwalia, IBM’s CTO for Cloud, so eloquently put it: “Blockchain provides a scalable, trustworthy, highly distributed, redundant and peer-to-peer verification process for processing, coordinating device interactions and sharing access to assets in an IoT network.” Enough said.

In light of the above, it is perhaps easier to glimpse how an additional Blockchain component, for irrefutable trust and ID management, might provide equivalent DRM-like governance for IoT, and I see this as a natural evolution of DRM (or whatever you want to call it) for both ‘things’ and content. However, any such development would do well to take on board lessons learnt from the original Content DRM implementations, and to understand that it is not cool to treat people as things.

www.DarkSide 1 – Online Grooming

November 9, 2015 Leave a comment

A most topical and sensitive subject such as online child abuse, terrorist recruitment etc., will understandably garner a lot of interest and attention, not just from IT people, but also from all other members of society at large. The recent BCS event with a similar title was no exception and perhaps unsurprisingly it also became a target of unwanted attention by some self styled extremists. Read on for more.

First of all, the event featured only two out of five original speakers. Apparently, the other three were unable to attend for various reasons, including threats to personal safety by certain extremist group.  However, it still turned out to be an interesting / informative session, full of insightful takes on the legal and IT aspects of online grooming.

Will Richmond-Coggan, Partner at Pittmans LLP, described how UK Laws created in 2008 are not equipped to handle more recent emergent technology and behaviours, e.g.: ubiquitous social media and/or ephemeral messaging services such as Snapchat. The key challenge is the startling velocity with which certain social technology innovation can gain critical mass and become pervasive. Nowadays, even a joke on Twitter about ‘blowing up something’ can be misconstrued, setting off a chain of events that could result in a minimal charge of wasting police time, at best. Freedom of expression is tricky, because it is not without limitations.

Richmond-Coggan also discussed how well meaning individuals wanting to give moral or financial support to oppressed people overseas can easily become victims of online recruiters and / or radicalization by extremist organisations. He also presented case studies illustrating the repercussions of online grooming on innocent but vulnerable people, and their families, even in situations where the actual sex crimes were thwarted by vigilant family members.

Ryan Rubin, MD of Protiviti, focused his talk on the role of technology and strategic attacks and he sees grooming as part of a wider problem, including: ISIS, Trolls, cyber bullying and child abuse. There is much need to increase public awareness of these issues as well as the methods for detecting and combating them, e.g.: Digital evidence from EXIF data on digital cameras, digital breadcrumbs from social media tools and privacy controls. People need to employ good digital personal hygiene and risk management, such as: use of strong passwords, regular audit of privacy controls on social media, don’t publish your date of birth or any unnecessary information about your kids, and certainly monitor your kid’s online activities / content / channels. Remember, photos may contain location information and don’t post your travel plans (or else you might as well take out a “please rob me” ad). Finally, always post with caution, e.g. by applying the Grandma test (i.e. will your Grandma be offended by the content you’re just about to post online?).

Overall, I thought this was another excellent event by our North London BCS branch, despite unforeseen glitches caused by drop out of 3 speakers. I only hope the next Darkside event will be just as topical and provocative, because as IT professionals, we are supposed to be able to take a clear stance, if not actually leading the way, to helping resolve those technology related issues that affect the broader society as a whole.

Categories: BCS, Event Tags: , ,

IT’s At The Airport

Last month, I helped coordinate a BCS London seminar about the role of IT in the airport and air travel industry, and as you might imagine it proved a very popular topic, complete with sold out venue and 4 expert IT practitioners from one of the world’s busiest hub airport. Read on for highlights…

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In the UK, London’s Heathrow Airport served over 73 million passengers in 2014, which makes it a daily hive of logistical complexity and activity involving multiple parties, inter-linked processes and diverse technologies all of which interface with IT. As a result, Heathrow’s IT Department plays a crucial role in the smooth operation of the airport, and our 4 speakers provided a glimpse into several aspects of this relationship at the airport, for example:
  • Airport Operations – Heathrow operates 98% runway capacity which roughly translates to a take-off or landing event occurring every 45 seconds, thereby making it one of the most efficient 2 runway airports in the world. Speaker, Brent Reed (Airport Ops Lead Designer), described how Heathrow introduced a world’s first Time Based Seperation (TBS) system to further maintain / improve on this efficiency, particularly on windy days – every second counts!
  • The Automated Passenger Journey – Heathrow is actively implementing the IATA Fast Travel Program strategy which aims to provide 80% of global passengers with a complete and relevant self-service suite by 2020. According to Capgemini’s Don Grose (Lead Solution Architect), this program will deliver multiple benefits for: passengers, airlines and airports, and Heathrow has already delivered or trialled several self service capabilities, including: Self Boarding, Automatic Ticket Presentation and Kiosk self service bag tags, Self Service Bag Drop trials, as well as biometric enrolment & verification.
  • Shadow IT at Heathrow – Andrew Isenman (Passenger Experience Design Lead), described how Heathrow employees are starting to engage their colleagues and digitally enabled passengers in different ways, sometimes even bypassing the IT departments. As a result, the latter have proactively started encouraging and shaping how this engagement happens, at the same time they’re addressing the usual questions around: support provision, reduced Total-Cost-of-Ownership (TCO), increased security and minimal technical debt.
  • Airport Innovation – Heathrow has embraced the drive for innovation with various initiatives, some of which were presented by Richard Harding, (Head of strategy and innovation at Heathrow). They included: the Heathrow innovation Process, Crowd dynamics (detecting / measuring / alerting via CCTV), WiFi digital finger printing, Airfield Asset inspection, Mobile Display units and treasure hunts. Key insights gleaned from Heathrow innovation highlight the need for: open innovation, active promotion, new governance processes, skills enablement and innovative culture / process metrics.
In conclusion, it was a very informative session on how IT enables the daily operation of a major hub airport. Times are changing, and air travellers demand a more personalised experience in their interaction with Heathrow and its many partners which make-up the airport ecosystem.  A huge thanks to the BCS London organisers and the speakers for making it an insightful and worthwhile event about IT at the Airport!
Categories: BCS, Event Tags: , , , , ,