The theme of this research work is heavily concerned with the role that Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) have to play in a robot-led infrastructure sector. While the robot itself is an object of IP interest, the authors shall try to dig deeper into how far the outputs of a robot’s database can be protected, considering the minimized human input involved. With patenting Artificial Intelligence (AI) still being a grey area, is the global economy completely well-equipped to face the legal challenges of a robot-led economy? If so, then how shall such an infrastructure sector function?
This blog is a brief comparative study between the UK, and India while focusing on infrastructural advancement and AI, covering a wide range of activities, from ensuring a clean environment to road construction and not to forget smart asset management.
Keywords: “IPR”, “robot-led infrastructure”, “AI”, “robot-led economy”, “global economy”
How Robotics and AI contribute to the Infrastructure Sector
A mention of the word “robot” brings to mind an image of some automated machines performing multiple tasks without any human involvement as such. Robotics has always been regarded to be better suited for labour-intensive industries such as construction work since it has historically been connected with the completion of extremely complicated tasks, which is why many service sector industries tend to refrain from involving Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in carrying out their regular business.  Nonetheless, owing to the new cutting-edge technology, involving robots in small or medium-sized service sector industries has become more legible.
In most nations across the world, investing in infrastructure is an economic and political priority, which is why, in order to revive stagnant economies, modernize antiquated systems, and accommodate expanding and shifting populations, more sophisticated projects are commissioned. It is anticipated that in the next few years the demand for new infrastructure would rise dramatically as a result of considerable urbanization brought on by rapid population increase (world population predicted to hit 9.7 billion in 2050) and robust economic growth.
A dynamic environment is created for the sector by other new issues, such as rising demands of enterprises, the general public, shifting demographics, and the necessity to minimize waste output and carbon emissions. In these circumstances, the adoption of technology and automation in this sector shall hasten the slow nature of modernization while offering solutions to the long-unsettled problems that the construction sector has been facing for a long time.
Theadoption of the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) with its sensor-embedded roads and traffic signals in traffic management has already proved to be revolutionary.
It can thus be predicted that with the advent andpossible adoption of 3D and 4D printing technologies and an advanced Internet of things (IoT) in the construction sector, the creation of a smart building, or rather a smart city that can easily adapt to new changes, be sustainable and energy-efficient shall be an easier task. Undoubtedly, state-of-the-art technologies and the rapid pace of change will present us with both possibilities and difficulties (e.g.,the 2017 global ransom attack of “WannaCry”), which individual companies and sectors will have to hold shields against.
Where does it leave the infrastructure sector as it is right now? As the disruptive shift that has affected other sectors also takes root in such massive automation and digitization, the infra-scenario is likely to change and develop considerably. In this regard, new models of business that influence customers to invest and become more digital are already starting to take shape, thereby changing the face of direct communications and payment of incentives forever.Due to their standardized, controlled procedures, many major organizations find it difficult to successfully combine their present portfolio with innovation and the cultivation of new ideas. This is also the case with many infrastructure and construction enterprises.
The industry tends to be redefined by such mechanization. It will cause company tactics to change, and the kind of jobs that infrastructural businesses recruit for to change. Such digital transformation needs to involve the entire organization if businesses are to benefit from it and to maximize the benefits, technology must be adopted even at stages as low as the supply chain. In order to create a futuristic infrastructure, we must react and accept the transformation that new technologies might bring about.
Usage of Robotics in the Construction Sector
One of the most important industries in the world is that of construction, and ironically it is alsoone of the slowest industries to make its move towards digitization and automation, owing to multiple factors such as lack of planning, labour costs etc. The newest construction technology and breakthroughs, such as robots and AI, are now the talk of the town. Implementing such technology allows for greater precision and faster construction, improving efficiency, and saving costs, and other resources. Given a fast-paced building process, incorporating robotics in construction helps construction workers achieve excellent results while reducing human flaws.
Despite the fact that the construction business is mostly unautomated, numerous distinct robots for supporting construction workers are currently on the market. In addition, during the next decade, we might see numerous breakthroughs in the realm of robotics and construction automation that will fundamentally transform the architectural, construction, and engineering industries.
Robots are and can be used for multiple purposes in the construction sector. These tasks include:
But, how can robotic automation actually benefit the construction sector?
When it comes to robotics, theconstruction sector may be a trailblazer. Even basic building materials could make excellent prospects for robotic testing, like bricks. Bricks are one of the most widely used elements of construction that come in mostly the same dimensions everywhere, thereby signifying homogeneity, which further makes certain experts claim that robots might be trusted to perform precise manual labour work.
Several companies, such as Robotnik have also come up with various Research and Development (R&D) projects such as theHERON whose ultimate goal is to develop such robotic systems that can automatically perform road maintenance jobs such as pothole maintenance sealing of cracks that can also conduct automatic inspection tasks.
Experts in infrastructure are enthused about futuristic robots that may patrol the streets. The bots might play a variety of roles. Some may even be assigned tasks and sent immediately to a particularly problematic pothole to restore it, such as theAddibot.
In certain circumstances,robots might report on unsafe road conditions and other issues. If this occurs, countries with restricted infrastructure budgets may be able to make better use of their budgetary limits. It will be intriguing to observe which, assuming that any of these innovations make the leap from the laboratory to stores and improve the lives of people in the most underprivileged places of the world.
Presently, surveillance at building sites is a key source of concern. Increased thefts on building sites, particularly of industrial supplies, have resulted from a lack of appropriate security. Building site thefts cost somewhere between$300 million and $1 billion, which is a staggering sum. Only around a quarter of these resources are reclaimed.Drones designed with AI technologies aid in the surveillance of building sites. It records photographs and high-resolution aerial video footage of building sites, sometimes even live streaming them to smaller screens such as tablets and mobile phones using cutting-edge technology. In this approach, robots help the construction sector improve the security of work sites.
High-level computer programming and AI are used to steer self-driven vehicles that are used in the construction sector. Excavators, andAutonomous Track Loaders (ATLs) are examples of such vehicles. These reduce the requirement for human labor to do the assigned task to some extent.
Robots that have been expressly programmed to help construction workers demolish completed constructions are known as‘demolition robots’. Despite the fact that demolition robots are somewhat slower than human demolition crews, they are still much less expensive. As they can be operated from a safer location, creating a better environment for the employees, the use of such robots at building sites may prove to be a good replacement for professional demolition crews. They are used for demolition tasks for both safety as well as cost-effectiveness. Not to forget, theExosuit which is a metallic structure that a human can wear while carrying large objects, helps them in maintaining their balance. The usage of Exosuit on-site can reduce the risk of injuries and accidents, thereby raising the safety factor, and contributing to the overall efficiency levels.
As indicated above, theconstruction sector has not totally been cut off from digitizations. The construction sector will gain from real-time communication capabilities at a level that has never been possible before. For instance, technologies likeSlack now allow construction crews to connect with one another through real-time conversations. This may greatly prevent mistakes and miscommunications while also saving a tremendous amount of time. The development of collaborative software has also made it possible for teams to collaborate remotely on projects.
The last few years have also seen adecline in the number of young people employed in construction. Since technology can connect and enthuse new recruits in a manner that traditional resources cannot, it offers several opportunities to accomplish this. Additionally,younger workers require less training than their older colleagues to use technology. Thus, new workers might enter the business in positions better suited to their talents by being promoted right away to tech-centric positions.
Pros of Introducing a Robot-Led Infrastructure Sector
The field of robotics holds immense potential to provide significant advantages to the construction sector; nevertheless, adoption rates of such technological advancements in the industry continue to remain quite minimal.
To streamline and understand this segment better, it is easier to consider the following robotic technologies in particular:
- Robotic and automated on-site systems
The construction industry requires a lot of labour. Robotic automation has proven to be quite successful in many other sectors in lowering labour expenses while enhancing quality and efficiency.
For several years, there has been alooming concern about the labour shortage in the construction industry. Productivity can be increased, and this shortfall may be reduced by using robots. Additionally, it will enable workers with superior talents to earn higher compensation. Someone with advanced skills will undoubtedly be in higher demand, at least throughout the transition period, which will last for atleast a decade.By 2030, it’s anticipated that there will be approximately 200 million more construction jobs than there are today. Without having to cut staff, increasing automation in the construction project will speed up the completion of infrastructural projects. Automation will reduce issues of skill shortage and spur the need for new kinds of skilled jobs.
Compared to on-site production, manufacturing individual components in factories lends itself to increased automation. Building construction might be significantly impacted by a large move to off-site modular construction, however, such change will take a while. High-level construction components are combined into finished construction modules using‘Large-Scale Prefabrication’ (LSP) techniques which become a much more of an easier procedure through the usage of additive manufacturing methods like 3D printing.
Site inspection is a procedure that is required both before as well as during a construction project is in the making to guarantee accuracy. The cost of creating these thorough point cloud scans has decreased because of improvements in point cloud registration. Construction sites or prefabrication supplies may be scanned and cross-referenced with plans owing to thescan-to-Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology, and related point cloud registration. It will make it possible to verify the efficacy of building methods.
On construction sites throughout the world, automated and robotic technologies are being tested and piloted. With different degrees of accomplishment, tasks including laying bricks, assembling steel trusses, welding, installing, painting, and pouring concrete are all being mechanized. These devices are referred to as‘Single-Task Construction Robots’ (STCRs), which carry out a single task repeatedly.Hadrian X, a robotic arm used for bricklaying, is a classic illustration. Until now, the challenge has been getting these specialized robots to cooperate in the hectic atmosphere of a construction site.
Robotics’ safety features have potential, but there are still a lot of issues that need to be solved. Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), reality capture technologies and point clouds have become increasingly important in building more accurate 3D models that the robots may use for navigation.  But the system is still far from ideal. Point clouds may give useful and dynamic site and location details, especially when used with BIM. These 3D representations are essential for connecting robotics to the real world.
Therefore, robots can provide the construction sector with a much safer work atmosphere by taking on heavy-duty tasks such as ground drilling and working mechanically in high-risk environments such as mines or underground construction, while reducing the risk of fatalities.
In contrast to the pros of this high-level mechanisation of the construction sector, the cons remain a few except for the possibility of a major chunk of the society being rendered jobless.
The very first negative shall involve the rise in the level of complexity of the construction process. Robots have always had difficulty working in unpredictable environments. Since they can’t fully think for themselves yet, certain plans must be implemented. It would be necessary to standardize sites in some way so that humans and robots could collaborate securely. This brings one back to the earlier stated point of job insecurity. The majority of construction robotics research has been centred on the creation of novel systems. Workers in the construction industry have legitimate concerns about robots taking their jobs. The connection between workers in the construction industry and robots hasn’t received the same focus up to this point.
This booming segment of technology is still developing, but the construction industry has its own special challenges. For robots to be employed in construction efficiently, a number of issues must be resolved, that include:
- Adapting to outdoor and challenging situations
- Operation restrictions due to battery life
- Complex operations necessitate more training and expense strict laws that raise the price of adoption
- Additional dangers to safety
It is becoming evident that determining the amount of time saved and associated labour expenses will not be enough to determine if robotics initiatives are successfully implemented. There is a need to comprehend how well humans can adapt to the needs of this brand-new universe of robotic creation. Nonetheless, there clearly remains a need for setting up of universal guidelines for robotics technology developers and their use in manufacturing environments where robots are positioned closely with humans; developing enhanced perception that provides a robot with greater autonomy, reducing the need for its workplace environment to fulfil rigorous constraints, and enhancing the ability for robotics patrons to understand what they are purchasing and for programmers and vendors to demonstrate what their systems can achieve.
The Intellectual Protection of Machinery
In all Research and Development (R&D)-intensive sectors, including robots, IP protection is essential. Before being able to market their goods and achieving market leadership,robotics companies frequently invest years in extensive research. It is this whole process of producing lucrative goods that emphasizes the importance of IPR, which is seen as required to recover initial costs and to ward off rivals attempting to profit from their rivals’ R&D expenditures. In order for their business to succeed and be defended,investors will be interested in seeing the prospects for new robotic systems along with the protection provided by IPR.
In the robotics sector, R&D frequently lasts for several years before yielding a viable business prospect, with patents serving as the primary legal tool for recovering expenditures. Patents provide inventors with a legal right to prevent others from using their ideas for commercial gain. Patents may be used by both big and small businesses to draw in investors and safeguard their technological assets.
Robotics businesses operating in Europe frequently submit applications for European Patents, which are collections of national patents awarded by the European Patent Office. This path may show
important when robotics companies want to defend their discoveries across many European nations. Depending on whether a national market is of special importance and where infringements by direct or indirect rivals are likely to occur,corporations decide on their filing strategies.
Companies whose robots or component parts are easily reverse engineered may find the patent approach to be particularly advantageous. When reverse engineering is simple, applying for a patent may be preferred to keep the underlying manufacturing process and/or “trade secret” in order to protect it. Robotics firms have been parties to some major patent-related lawsuits, notably in the US. For example, the company,iRobot has been particularly active in the courts, with a conflict arising in 2005 against the Urus Industrial Corporation. The parties finally settled the matter with the defendant agreeing to not sell the concerned product and to disposing off its existing inventory. The courts further enforced and upheld iRobot’s patents. This case was followed up by a barrage of other cases that iRobot has initiated against many other companies for breaching many of its patents, time and again.
Robotic inventions can be protected using trade secrets insituations where:
i) robots are created and deployed in a controlled setting
ii) reverse-engineering is difficult
iii) individuals involved in the goods are dedicated to confidentiality
Industrial secrets that satisfy the necessary criteria are protected for as long as they remain private, therefore trade secret protection may potentially endure considerably longer than that provided by patents. The trade secrets option may prove to be a better choice for robotics technologies due to their indefinite protection period.Unlike the patent system, which mandates disclosure, trade secrets do not. As previously said, trade secrets might be crucial to technologies that may take a long time toobtain commercial acceptance and impetus.
Finally, trade secrets can safeguard innovations in computer code and software that may not be covered by patents. This choice would be especially advantageous given that securing software ideas with patents has proved to be controversial on both a national and international scale, as had been witnessed in the 2014 US Supreme Court case ofAlice Corp. v. CLS Bank International.
If certain conditions are met, including those relating to originality, certain components of robotics devices, particularly software code, may be covered bycopyright protection. This represents a crucial choice given that, theissue of patent availability for computer programs has generated controversy.
Companies in this industry could alsorely on “technological protection measures” to limit access to copyright-protected code for robots. More specifically, these businesses could be interested in attempting to erect electronic access barriers that will make it harder for users and rivals to obtain the necessary software code. Copyright laws permit the building of these obstacles. In addition, it is illegal to get beyond electronic restrictions in order to access computer code that is protected by copyright. It is a sort of security that may be beneficial against consumers or rivals that wish to obtain access to industrially crucial software code.
In principle, trademark registration is critical for protecting a product’s goodwill in the market, particularly in business-to-consumer businesses. Interestingly, robotics is rapidly becoming into an industry in which goods are marketed directly to multitudes of end customers. The economic success of pet-robots, and medical-robots is equally dependent on a reputable brand that people recognize, trust, respect, and recognize.  Trademark infringement lawsuits involving robots may soon approach the courts given the rising tendency of businesses in this industry to file trademark applications and create comprehensive brand identities.
The physical characteristics of a robot and its “look and feel” affect customer decision. Robot designs that satisfy specific criteria, such as innovation and individuality, may be registered with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), preserving the robots’ decorative elements. The registrants’ exclusive rights can therefore be protected against third parties that employ designs that, in the opinion of a knowledgeable user, convey the same core message.
Despite having utilitarian components, these items may be designed in a way that appeals to customers more; in this case, design rights may be the best legal instrument available to such businesses to safeguard the attractive features of their products. In other words, these rights may enable these businesses to stay up with therobotics industry’s impending “fashionalisation”.
Overall Legal Protection
The United Kingdom (UK)
The UK is a tiny, heavily populated country with congested skies, congested roads, and a reasonably cautious aviation industry. Long-term plans in the UK call for robots to take the place of diggers in Leeds, making it the first self-repairing metropolitan city in the world. To offer early warnings of transport issues in the area so that the appropriate resources may be mobilized, while Oxfordshire County Council leverages AI and predictive analytics. However, legislation in the UK is a barrier to the broad deployment of robots, including autonomous cars and drones.
The effects on employment are the next. Engineers in the UK would fight against widespread automation. Robotics is now more directly linked to employment reductions than employment generation, and there is plenty of data to support this. UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems Network (UK-RAS) compares this with the US car sector, nevertheless. Automobile manufacturers added over 60,000 industrial robots between 2010 and 2015, while hiring 230,000 additional people. If accurate, this implies that one robot might generate up to four additional employment opportunities.
According to the white paper, robotics will eliminate low-skilled positions and substitute them with high-tech, skilled positions. According to UK-RAS, this increases social inequality by locking automation and low-paying jobs in a deadly embrace. Robotic innovation should“free up our workforce”, as suggested by the white paper.
Another looming effect that continues to haunt many trying their hands in the robotics sector, is the subject of inventorship, as had been noticed in the Dabus case, whereby, Dabus on account of not being a natural person, wasdenied inventorship, demonstrating that these judicial systems are not yet ready to accept the notion of assigning IP rights to AI systems.
To conclude, it appears that the debate over who is the true creator of things created by AI will continue for some time. For the time being, each AI-related IP challenge will be looked at based on its particular material facts. Numerous countries and international organizations, including the UK, the US, and the EU, along with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) are conducting in-depth investigations to identify the best resolutions for IP disputes using AI systems. The rate of advancement in AI technology will be crucial in the establishment of new regulations in this area.
India has launched theGlobal Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI), joining a group of powerful economies that also includes the UK, the USA, the EU, France, Canada, Australia, Germany, Mexico, Japan, Italy, Singapore, South Korea, and New Zealand. The GPAI is a global, multi-stakeholder project to direct the ethical development and application of artificial intelligence, with a foundation in human rights, inclusiveness, diversity, innovation, and economic prosperity. At the moment, AI is not specifically regulated in India by codified laws, or even official recommendations. The Information Technology Act of 2000 (IT Act) and the rules created thereunder outline the requirements in this area. A plan for the introduction, application, and integration of AI into society has just been announced by theMinistry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), along with the creation of a few committees.
A review and stakeholder comments on the proposedInformation Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018, published by MEITY, have been solicited. The discourse has included several remarks that address AI and the functions of the intermediaries that use AI in their ecosystems. A government think tank called National Institution for Transforming India (NITI AAYOG) develops long-term, strategic plans and programs for the government and offers technical guidance to the federal and state governments. It has also released a study encouraging use of AI in all fields. 
However, the Indian labour ecosystem has yet to adopt AI; there is still much work to be done in terms of both deployment and the legal frameworks that will oversee it. To allow the population to adapt and learn utilizing AI tools, NITI Aayog is working with numerous Indian colleges through a number of programs.
The robot revolution is now a reality, and businesses and endeavours that focus on robotics will undoubtedly continue to prosper in the years to come. This blog emphasizes the significance of different IP protection measures to lure and recuperate the significant expenditures that are required in this industry, with a particular focus on the junction of robotics in the infrastructure sector and IP.
However, certain legal steps designed to safeguard intellectual property in the robotics industry have alsodrawn criticism, particularly when patents were issued by patent offices with vaguely worded claims and were vigorously pursued against rivals. The cutting-edge industries that may offer solutions to these problems may be the robotics and AI sector. It can be only left upon time to set such tone.
The fact is that we need highly developed robotic technology to maintain both our high level of living and the viability and profitability of all economic sectors that depend on critical infrastructure. Simply put, robotics, as a revolutionary technology, has the potential to revolutionize the global economy in the resource and construction sectors, ushering in a new era of infrastructure and smart resource management, thereby marking new levels of progression in human evolution, and more importantly the evolution of the human brain. Our country, more specifically, is being held back by a shortfall in the dots connecting knowledge with execution and further integration. For such an advanced future, shall all our eyes wait.
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About the Author
Ms. Namrata Bhowmik is a 5th Year law Student at the Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad. She is a freelance legal writer with Ananda Intellectual Property, Thailand, and the Head of Communications and Web Designing (C&WD) at IJPIEL.
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Preferred Method of Citation
Namrata Bhowmik, “Vision for a Robot-lead Infrastructure: The IP Edit” (IJPIEL, 5 December 2022)