Internet of Things – proprietary vs open source systems

by DLA Piper
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Internet of Things (IoT) market is estimated to generate $ 7.1 trillion in sales by 2020, but its main issue is often considered to be the lack of interoperability between devices belonging to different systems.

The usual battle is between proprietary platforms which allow the interoperability only of devices that have been certified by the manufacturer of the IoT system and open source platforms. The IoT-A, a European Commission Framework Programme, is a project aimed at allowing the communication between different Internet of Things devices creating a common “language” of communication through an architectural reference model for the interoperability of IoT systems.

This project was financed by several tech companies, but is not the current standard in the market (or better in the market that will be) where companies tend to develop proprietary systems connecting only to devices certified by them in order to protect their investments. However, there are also some open source platforms that have the purpose of allowing any possible device to connect to their systems.

We have already covered some of the legal issues affecting the Internet of Things in this post. But the main legal issue on the above topic is whether owners of IoT systems allowing the connection only of certified devices can prevent the access to their systems of either devices that are not certified by them or that they are not willing to certify or that they can certify only at their own conditions. Indeed, some commentators argue that “closed” systems might be in breach of competition laws. This is in their view even more valid if manufacturers of such systems select the manufacturers whose devices can be “certified” forcing them to accept their own terms.

Such type of approach has already been seen in other sectors and the groundness of this analysis shall be assessed only when a market of Internet of Things and its major players will be more identifiable taking into account the peculiarities of the market, its trends and the conduct taken by all the interested parties.

Likewise, in accordance with the European Union Computer Programs 2009/24 Directive the reverse engineering of a software program does not need the authorization from the rights holders if

indispensable to obtain the information necessary to achieve the interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, provided that [---] the information necessary to achieve interoperability has not previously been readily available“.

We will see the development of the interpretation of the above mentioned provision and the potential battle between the operators active in the Internet of Things market. This is unless Governmental authorities take measures towards enhancing interoperability among the Internet of Things devices as part of other political measures aimed at boosting the market as those currently occurring in China that is driving the sector.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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