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Autonomous vehicles are rapidly evolving into one of the most transformative technologies, in part because of innovations in devices and processes historically not associated with the automotive industry, such as improved sensors and cameras, radar and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, and communications mechanisms for vehicle connectivity. The use of such technologies in autonomous vehicles has also ushered in numerous technology and ridesharing companies as new market players in the automotive industry, which has long belonged to the traditional car manufacturers and their OEM suppliers.

Autonomous vehicles provide the possibility for effecting groundbreaking social benefits, such as improved road safety and reduced car crash fatalities. As highlighted by the World Economic Forum, autonomous vehicles also have the potential to reduce traffic, decrease pollution, and even transform the way we design our cities. There are also enormous business opportunities. Some experts project that autonomous vehicles will constitute about 10% of all cars on U.S. roads by 2025. By then, Bloomberg projects that the industry would have transformed into a $42 billion market. It is thus no surprise that, according to CB Insights, venture capital and strategic corporate investors invested about $3.4 billion into autonomous vehicles in 2017 alone, and Brookings Institution estimated that over $80 billion has been invested in total. But such unprecedented changes will cause significant disruptions to the automotive industry and raise new legal and ethical issues that must be addressed. IP rights and considerations, in particular, will become one of the key implicated areas, alongside other legal and ethical issues, such as privacy, cyber security, and liability. This article attempts to identify those IP issues and navigate the complex IP landscape within this rapidly-developing sector.

This was first published in Bloomberg Law.

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