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How Covid-19 Reshaped Both Our Lives and Tech Legal Trends

April 23, 2021, 8:00 AM

It’s been over a year since I’ve worked in my office building. My son will finish his high school sophomore year without ever stepping into a classroom or meeting his teachers in person. My eighth-grade daughter has been in school part-time since mid-March but with the same pod of 20 kids—certainly not how she thought she would end junior high school. All of us have stories about the personal ways in which life as we knew it changed dramatically as Covid-19 spread around the globe.

We’re now on the brink of lifting all restrictions here in California, and as the global co-chair of DLA Piper’s technology sector, I’ve been thinking a lot about how technology made possible the seismic shift in how we worked and lived over the last year and a half.

It’s also something I’ve given a lot of thought to as the firm plans its Global Technology Summit. We launched the summit back in in 2008 to look closely at emerging technology and the legal trends affecting businesses in a changing world. For the first time it will be remote, and we’ve adjusted the topics to reflect the new technology landscape, including artificial intelligence and robotics, privacy, security and cyber-espionage, and the impact of data on innovation, technology, and government

Certainly, Covid-19 turned in-person office workforces into remote workforces seemingly overnight, a change made possible by cloud solutions, digital communication, and collaboration tools and IT infrastructures to support the high volumes of data being transmitted from far-flung locations across the country and in some cases across the globe.

Technology innovations that support collaboration, training and, team building will be critical in next-generation workplaces that are digital and remote. The data generated from those new tools can ultimately inform the development of AI technologies to optimize training, productivity and team-building initiatives. This convergence of technology, data, and AI to support the evolution of the workplace is one outcome of the pandemic that is likely to stay.

Data Is Now an Asset That Needs Protection

There’s also the role of data in our increasingly data-centric world. From contact tracing to predictive modeling to analytics about treatment, data has played a critical role in the world’s response to Covid-19. As each of us stayed home and made purchases during our self-imposed quarantine, data was collected about us and our buying habits.

When I first started practicing law in the mid-1990s, we didn’t routinely talk about data as an asset. Now, the value of data cannot be underestimated, as an asset to be monetized as well as an asset to inform next-generation technology, AI, and machine learning solutions.

Representing clients in their technology development and license agreements often includes negotiations over intellectual property rights as to how those rights affect legal terms like indemnities, limitations of liability, and warranties. Now the negotiations often include the added dimension of data rights, including whether the data can be provided, how it can be used, how it can be analyzed, who owns the machine learning and improvements in AI algorithms that result from the use of that data. Issues like these are what keep our technology transactions lawyers on their toes as we draft and negotiate the multiple dimensions of an agreement.

The focus on data also highlights the importance of the security of that data, which is another area of technology where we expect to see active development. Having uninvited guests on video conferences highlighted the vulnerabilities we all face in a remote and digital environment.

Technologies that are designed to secure our IT systems and protect our data from vulnerabilities that may lead to cyber incidents and breaches will continue to be in demand. Effective solutions that are easily implemented at a favorable price point will continue to be the holy grail for technology innovators and the customers who seek technology solutions.

Data security focus is especially important as we continue to move away from a cash-based society into one dominated by digital transactions. Digital payments, virtual currencies, and digital wallets are changing the payments ecosystem.

Accelerated Needs for Technology in Financial Services

The pandemic has also accelerated the need for technology solutions in the financial services and insurance sectors. As blockchain, distributed ledger technologies, and smart contracts gain traction, implementing these solutions in an evolving regulatory landscape will continue to present challenges.

How the incumbents respond to these developments, whether through their own R&D efforts or through inorganic growth by acquisition of the upstarts, will likely change the landscape and determine the dominant players in the new ecosystem.

In a few months, my children will likely step back into a classroom, and I may go to the office more often. But one thing is for sure—the world we all live in has changed. Technology has helped steer us through the pandemic to where we are today, and it will no doubt pave the road ahead. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s around the next curve.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Victoria Lee is global co-chair of DLA Piper’s Technology Sector and has been practicing in DLA Piper’s Technology and Sourcing group for more than 25 years. She focuses on representation of emerging growth and public companies in complex technology and commercial transactions in the technology sector, and other industry sectors.

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