Yesterday afternoon, the American Bar Association’s Section of Science & Technology Law (the “SciTech Section”) held a brief meeting to discuss the potential legal issues that may emerge with respect to the Internet of Things (“IoT”).  This blog post discusses salient takeaways from the meeting. 

What is IoT?

There is no controlling definition or sets of standards for IoT (and that is itself a significant issue for regulation of IoT).  With this in mind, the SciTech Section used the definition for IoT set forth inRecommendation ITU-T Y.2060 of the United Nations’ specialized agency in the field of telecommunications, information and communication technologies, the International Telecommunication Union (“ITU”):

3.2.2    Internet of things (IoT):  A global infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies.

Recommendation ITU-T Y.2060 also separately defines “things” as used in IoT:

3.2.3   thing:  With regard to the Internet of things, this is an object of the physical world (physical things) or the information world (virtual things), which is capable of being identified and integrated into communication networks.

As framed by the SciTech Section, IoT is the latest step in the computing evolution, which began with so-called “dumb terminals,” progressed to “+ things” and then advanced further to “interconnected + things.” Since evolution is a dynamic process, the types and number of IoT will not stay stagnant.  Yesterday, the SciTech Section offered predictions of 20 billion IoT devices by 2020, but there have been even greater estimates made by other, including an estimate of “38 billion smart devices by 2020” by the Tech 2 Blog earlier today. 

Potential IoT Issues

The SciTech Section identified at least twelve (12) basic issues that IoT faces today, which could result in a litigation quagmire for companies and individuals manufacturing, incorporating, investing, and operating with IoT. 

  1. Ease of Use;
  2. Data Management;
  3. Security;
  4. Privacy/Confidentiality;
  5. Regulation;
  6. Relationship to infrastructure (e.g., communications and interactions between gateways, clouds and end devices);
  7. Accessibility and usage;
  8. Standards;
  9. Cross-domain/vertical usage and interactions;
  10. Governance;
  11. Inability of current IT to keep pace with the evolution of IoT; and
  12. Inadequate update or upgrade process.

With so many issues, the litigation exposure in IoT is significant.  Just from an initial impression, litigation may span the gamut from negligence to breach of warranty to strict liability to false advertising to unfair deceptive trade practices to negligence per se.  Accordingly, companies or individuals operating in the space need to be forward-thinking, even in the absence of standards, regulations, and governance.  As the SciTech Section mentioned, no IoT company wants to become the poster child for IoT litigation.