“A Licensing Approach to Regulation of Open Robotics”

On April 8th, I had the opportunity to present my paper, A Licensing Approach to Regulation of Open Robotics at the We Robot Conference at Stanford Law School.  The paper was commented on by cyberlaw expert, Professor Michael Froomkin.  The following is a brief introduction to my proposal.

My paper argues that openness is normally associated with increased innovation.  However, in the case of robotics, open architecture can have an inverse effect by creating a disincentive for manufacturers to develop open systems. The singular preoccupation of open source – as we currently understand it – with software freedom, presents a barrier for manufacturers seeking to restrict or foresee harmful or unethical applications by downstream channels.

What I propose is the development of a new licensing model that promotes “sufficient and selective openness” as a means to regulate open robotics.  The Ethical Robot License (a work in progress that I designed as part of the paper) seeks to temper the inconsistent goals of attaining total software freedom, and promotion of ethical and non-harmful use of robots, by imposing selective obligations and restrictions on downstream applications.  Violation of license terms renders downstream parties liable to upstream channels for breach of contract and intellectual property infringement.

Canada Post claims monopoly over postal codes & sues geocoding service provider for IP infringement

Over a year ago, Canada Post (a Crown corp.) launched a lawsuit against Geocoder.ca, a company that collects postal codes on a voluntary basis in order to provide geocoding services.  Canada Post’s statement of claim, which was amended on March 9th, alleges that Geocoder is infringing on its intellectual property.

The Crown corporation claims to own copyright in its postal code database, and that any party seeking to use such data without its permission is infringing its rights.  For copyright to subsist in the database, it would have to meet certain requirements including the exercise of skill and judgment.  Needless to say, it will be interesting to see Canada Post try to argue that the creation of its database met this requirement given that there is really only one way to organize postal codes…

And even if copyright in the database is made out, copyright law – unlike patent law – does not provide protection from independent creation.  In practice, what this means is that if Geocoder developed its database through compiling voluntary user queries, there would be no infringement.

The case has been filed with the Federal Court.  If Canada Post succeeds in stretching the copyright framework, it will be granted a monopoly in selling postal code information (which it does for a minimum of $5,000).

If you would like to see what others have written about Canada Post’s actions and to contribute your comments, Geocoder provides a space to do so here.