Are we ready for next-generation cars?

Technology leap has driven us to an era where we are witnessing things which were used to be just a hyped phrase. Especially if we talk about the Automobile industry, in the last few years, connected smart cars using connected car technology have exploded, thanks to the Internet of Things, IoT. On average, people spend a significant portion of their day in their vehicles, and in today’s dynamic times everything that brings efficiency and convenience is a major plus. As a result, we can see Original Equipment Manufacturers, OEMs racing against each other to bring their upgraded connected smart cars and autonomous cars to the market.

Today, it’s something that every OEM is implementing, and you can find some elements of connected technology in practically any 2019 or 2020 car, although level of connectivity varies across models and automakers. Modern cars can connect to multiple devices through the internet. This let them receive data from devices such as lane markers, beacons on traffic signals, and signs. Further, these cars receive data from smart devices embedded in other cars, such as radar units and sensors, and also from external devices such as smart home devices, and/or cloud platforms. Connected vehicles are software and data-centric; they get new features, software updates, and patches by connecting to data platforms.

Traditional car makers are natural participants in the connected car race, and they are stepping up to the research and development (R&D) challenge by increasing spending in related areas. However, Innovative technology companies, including Google, Tesla, Uber and Apple are also working on connected and autonomous car projects. Automakers cannot compete in the modern landscape on their own; they need the help of top tech companies, startups, and software vendors. It’s no surprise that technologies in connected cars require a different kind of experience and different business models. Because of this, OEMs have to partner with Tier 1 and Tier 2 companies and harness their software expertise. As a result, more and more players in the market are entering into this segment, and therefore, there is a barrage of legal issues which is ready to flood the connected and autonomous car market.

Although there can be large number of legal issues, however, broadly these legal issues can be categorized under:

  • regulation,
  • liability,
  • data privacy,
  • cyber security, and
  • collaborations and partnerships.

New regulations are emerging worldwide to regulate the testing and deployment of autonomous and connected cars. Every country is taking all possible steps to define a legal framework for the regulation of connected and autonomous cars. For example, the European Commission has long been aware of the growing importance of intelligent transportation systems (ITS), thereby adopting an Action Plan for the development of harmonized standards for implementing ITS. In 2016, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (“UNECE”) amended the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic to allow automated vehicles, provided that the technologies conform with U.N. vehicle regulations. After the Vienna Convention was updated, the German government prepared a “Strategy for Automated and Connected Driving.” In 2017, the government passed a bill to allow the use of automated vehicles. As of now, under the EU E-Call Regulation (2015/758), most new vehicles in the EU must be equipped with an in-vehicle emergency call system. This system allows the occupants to communicate with emergency services through a mobile wireless connection without the necessity for the occupants to have their own mobile phones or other communications devices on board.

The regulatory focus thus far has been on enabling testing of autonomous vehicles and providing guidelines for the development of autonomous vehicles.  Both are positive steps, however, there is a risk that without clear legislation stakeholders may opt not to follow the guidelines, leading to a discordant development of ITS. Another legal issue may arise due to the cross-border use of connected cars. In a market like EU, every member state may decide on rights to the deployment of applications and services on its territory which may give rise to situations where car owners may not be able to use their car outside their home jurisdictions.

Further, interoperability may give rise to another form of legal issues. Since, today different platforms and technologies are deployed by different carmakers and their vendors for use in connected cars. It’s still not clear whether down the road, these parties will adopt standardized technology like we have seen in mobile phone market, so that all connected cars can communicate seamlessly. Through technology, more companies can provide discrete contributions to the automobile industry, complicating traditional industry relationships.

Thus, connected and autonomous cars give rise to new liability issues. Inevitably, the introduction of autonomous vehicles and ITS will add another layer of complexity to attributing liability for car accidents. It will be interesting to see how liability is apportioned in the future, when cars will be full autonomous. And specifically, in the absence of specific legislation, it would be a great challenge to ascertain the exact legal basis of liability in road accidents. Currently, there is a lack of bespoke legislation addressing the range of legal issues applicable to connected cars. A patchwork of existing legislative instruments applies.

It’s still open for discussion how will telecom regulations apply to the connectivity features in connected cars? How will cybersecurity and personal data risks be addressed? How will liability issues be addressed? In the coming years, we can expect bespoke legislation dealing with the host of legal issues arising with respect to connected and autonomous cars. Till that time, the auto industry, telecoms, and tech industries have to look to a patchwork of existing legislation and guidance issued by government bodies. It’s an important area to watch for legal developments in the near future.

About Shashank Singhal 0 Articles
Shashank is a European patent attorney candidate currently associated with an IP firm in Munich. Shashank specializes in European patent prosecution and primarily handles patent applications in the field of Information and Communication Technology. However, being an Indian patent attorney and having been worked with reputed Indian law firms before for several years, he also has a rich experience in dealing with Indian FER’s and hearings at the Indian Patent Office. In initial years of his IP career, he has also worked on patent searches and patent specification drafting related to software and mobile application inventions.

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