What do you do?
I'm an intellectual property lawyer with a focus on data "ownership" issues and the legal rights which cover access, use and dissemination of data. My practice covers both commercial and advisory work and, increasingly, disputes relating to data ownership.
My interest in data ownership started back in 2012 when I was on secondment with the tech and IP team of an investment bank, and had the opportunity to work on their market data agreements. It taught me a lot about data licensing and also got me interested in the underlying legal rights in data.
Back at Bird & Bird I continued working on various data-related projects. Initially these were focused on sports and financial services, where data ownership has always been a big topic. However, from around 2017 I started to see these issues cropping up in lots other sectors, driven by the adoption of AI and IOT. I really enjoyed both the legal and technical complexity of these projects and decided to build a practice around data ownership.
What’s keeping you busy?
Web scraping is a hot topic at the moment and I’ve been giving lots of advice to companies looking to utilise online data and to website operators who are looking to stop their data being scraped. Another hot topic is the ability of service providers to re-use customer data to develop new products and services (especially in the AI context) with clients regularly seeking support on interpreting their existing agreements and putting in place new ones.
What mentors or other influential figures have helped you get where you are today?
Working with the UK group of AIPPI [the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property] has been a fantastic opportunity to collaborate with other IP practitioners on the legal and policy issues relating to AI and data. Trevor Cook from WilmerHale has in particular been a great source of wisdom and guidance.
If you could change one data-related law, how and why would you change it?
I would harmonise IP rights protection for databases. There is real international divergence on the approach taken in different jurisdictions which I see as a potential barrier to data licensing.
How has covid-19 affected what you do?
I definitely saw uncertainty in some sectors (especially bricks-and-mortar retail, travel and aviation) around investing in new data-based projects in 2020, as businesses were trying to work out the long term impact of Covid-19 on their finances. Confidence seems to be returning however and I’ve seen a big uptick in new data work in recent months.
What’s the next big thing – what data opportunities are companies now looking at?
Open data has been coming up quite a bit recently in conversations as an area for exploration, as there are clearly opportunities to increase innovation and reduce bias in AI systems by sharing datasets. While there are also various legal and commercial tensions which need to be navigated to develop an open data strategy, I think we’re getting to a tipping point where the opportunities in many areas justify the investment required to develop an organisational open data strategy.
What’s keeping companies worried at the moment – what are some key data risks?
There is a lot of regulatory churn at the moment around IP rights in data. At the EU level we have new text and data mining exceptions contained in the Digital Copyright Directive and also expect a draft Data Act to be published later in 2021, which is likely to touch on data ownership issues. We also have the UK Intellectual Property Office planning to consult on text and data mining exceptions and investigate issues relating to data licensing for AI training later this year. As a result there are a lot of moving pieces and companies are having to think really carefully about how the changes are likely to impact their data strategies.
What do you do to relax?
I’m based in Somerset which offers lots of country roads and tracks to explore on my bike.