Wearable Technology - The new consumer wave

Here''s a thought for 2014: Which of these will be the most important legal issues in the coming years as "Wearable Tech" moves into the mainstream: patents, trade marks, product design, database rights, privacy laws or data security?

Expect to hear a lot more about this topic generally on a lot of different legal fronts next year and beyond. Current examples of wearable tech include Smart Watches and Smart Glasses. We are talking here about clothing and other accessories incorporating sensors, computers and advanced electronic technologies. There are already trail blazing products on the market and lots more to come. Some will put style ahead of technology; others will put technology ahead of style. All will need protecting by patents, designs and/or trade marks and new businesses and markets will emerge off the back of this. Think how fast the smart phone market and the apps industry have developed in the last few years. What is certain is that massive new flows and sources of data will arise, which will be of great commercial and social value. Here lies both the opportunity and the risk. Will we forego yet more personal rights in respect of our relations with our respective States and multi-national corporations? Do we really know what we are letting ourselves in for? Can anyone actually make a difference to the current direction of travel?

In addition to the practical and technological applications, wearable tech will generally have an aesthetic design aspect to consider. As with all clothing and accessories, brand and fashion will play a huge part. Commercially, the winners will be those with not just the best app, but also the "must have" name and look. But who wins and loses in the commercial competition is perhaps not the biggest question of all. We believe the big game is in who controls access to the data captured by wearable tech, where it goes and how it is used. Likely players in this brave new world include the technology companies, data carriers and storage companies, app providers and the State. But what about the rights of the individual? Proprietary intellectual property rights underpin investment and returns for technology owners. Intellectual property rights will remain a vital part of the economic tapestry, but ownership and control of such rights will come into tension with issues over data protection, data security and privacy rights from both a society and personal perspective.

To give a crude hypothetical example, suppose your smart glasses could sense record and transmit to an anonymous server "somewhere out there", not only voice and sound in your vicinity, but also the user''s and possibly other people''s biological reactions to what the user sees and hears. Couple this with a smart application which provides feedback in real time to the wearer, there could be numerous life enhancing applications as a result. Wouldn''t you want to "read" your world better? But, who owns that data, what if it is not secure, what if the unscrupulous hack it, or persons unknown to you lay their hands on it and are you happy with a world where others may routinely record what you are saying and doing? Ask yourself how you would react now if someone asks you if they can record a conversation? Are you comfortable with this or do you get ever so slightly suspicious as to why they would want to?

Current examples of wearable tech include smart watches, sporting performance sensors, "intelligent" eyewear, but the next phase will be implantable sensory tech and similar if not harder legal and ethical issues will crop up. There may well be huge health related benefits to monitoring biological data in real time and over time, but there is a flip side too.

It sounds like science fiction, but will be science fact sooner than we think. We suspect this is an area where the law and public debate will not keep pace with the rate of technological progress; even if it does in some jurisdictions, others will lag behind. But then again we are all well used to that, which is where the specialist lawyers come in! Happy 2014 everyone.

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