Law and innovation: chronicle of a marriage foretold

Electronics engineers and legal experts working hand in hand: this is the pioneering approach set up by the Institut d'Électronique et des Systèmes (IES) and the "Dynamiques du droit" laboratory at the University of Montpellier.

Image taken from Montpellier Agglomération's EcoCité project: creation of a new urban core by 2020-2030.

The smart city? More and more people are talking about it. Alain Foucaran is not the last person to evoke the concept, which is not surprising for the director of an Electronics Institute whose mission is to invent the key innovations of the modern city. A city "riddled with sensors", he says: "managing water, energy, health, security problems, population flows... In all these fields and many more besides, the objects designed by IES provide concrete solutions".

"Any innovation can create obstacles".

Objects that are both intelligent and autonomous, designed to meet emerging needs... but which can also pose unprecedented problems. For example: what do we do with our personal data? Should I allow myself to be "geolocated"? Credit card bugs, infringement of liberties, data ownership, cybercrime... The list goes on and on of the potential harm our wonderful electronic servants could be responsible for. "Alain Foucaran sums up: "Any innovation can create obstacles. Whereas in the past we were content to settle disputes as and when they arose, today we would like to foresee in advance what outcry is to be feared. A field in which electronics engineers admit their limitations...

Anticipating societal obstacles

For the past year, IES has been working with a laboratory with very different specialities: the "Dynamiques du droit" research unit headed by Éric de Mari, professor at the University of Montpellier. The aim is to explore the legal implications of technical innovations, in order to avoid litigation. " When difficulties arise, injured individuals or organizations invariably turn against the company that developed the offending technology," asserts Éric de Mari. Consulted downstream on patents and copyright protection, the UM's experts are therefore also given a genuine upstream mission: it's up to them to imagine the obstacles ahead.
It's a role that doesn't suit them too badly, continues Éric de Mari, who is delighted with the already rich cooperation with the IES. "We often think of the law as an auxiliary that's there to put things in order. But this discipline is also a dynamic force for innovation. In an ever-changing society, the rules for living together have to be constantly reinvented.It' s up to us to explore this creative dimension of the law.