Recently, the potential uses for UASs have increased, so much so that some have compared this period for UASs with the period when potential commercial uses for the internet were first being considered.  Drones are being considered for use in various applications including safely fighting fires, measuring and observing meteorological functions and events, television broadcasting and/or recording of events or surveying land.

With the expanding use of drones several legal issues will likely arise with regard to UAS technology.  Accidents that may result from UAS-related activity may present liability concerns.  Also, UAS technology generates a number of privacy-related issues.  UASs will be flying at altitudes that may allow for peering into windows or otherwise recording events that should not be recorded, whether such activity is intentional or unintentional.  Failing to consider such concerns could present costly risks to UAS users.

The technology associated with UASs will continue to evolve in order to improve performance, reliability, safety and efficiency.  As the technology evolves, surely novel technologies will surface because the need for new technology has always been the mother of innovation.  With these new innovative technologies surfacing, there will be a number of intellectual property related issues that will arise.  UASs utilize technologies including:

  • Robotics
  • Radar
  • Propulsion, Aerodynamics and Control Systems
  • Solar electric
  • Nanotechnology
  • Communication
  • Navigation
  • Composite Materials
  • Sensor fusion
  • Data processing and Image Processing/Recognition
  • Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance

As developers make advances in the aforementioned  technology, they will certainly want to protect their advancements by way of procuring intellectual property rights in the technology including procuring patents and trade secrets in order to protect their investment as well as gain a competitive advantage.  The advancements in technology that are made will inevitably have application outside of the UAS community.

Also in view, there may be some relatively complex licensing arrangements and collaborative agreements that will result.  If wireless communication is utilized, the question becomes: will a new communication infrastructure have to be developed or will the UAS community leverage off existing infrastructure such as the communication infrastructure for mobile telephones?  This further begs the question as to whether the existing infrastructures even have the bandwidth to support such a network of UASs.  In either case, whether a new infrastructure is developed or whether an existing infrastructure is leveraged, the potential legal issues, deals, and agreements may be massive.

UAS technology offers a great opportunity to improve current technologies in a variety of industries, but it also generates a number of legal concerns.  Users of UAS technology must take great care in ensuring that they are aware of and educated about the various legal issues that the promising technologies associated with UASs can present.