Technology is one of the fastest-moving industries today. Changes in laws surrounding science and technology happen almost as fast as they can be written. The American Bar Association (ABA) is expanding its Sci-Tech section to include artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, blockchain, and biotechnology.
What does science and technology law do in the modern world? And who needs a science and technology attorney? What legal services do they provide the business owner?
Definition of Science & Technology Law
Science and technology law is not a separate practice area in the legal field. Rather, it is a combined field that takes a little from a wide range of legal specializations. Some boutique firms may call themselves technology lawyers, but even these providers will not practice “technology law." Instead, their legal careers span a range of laws, including:
- Intellectual property (IP): IP law includes trademarks, copyrights, and patents. A patent attorney may work in industry or biotechnology and focus on obtaining exclusive rights and controls for unique products or cell lines.
- Cybersecurity: Data protection has gone far beyond email security and password protection. New cyberprotection laws, national and international, require disclosures stating what data is being acquired and stored. Customers must have an “opt-out" if they want their data removed.
- Cybercrime prevention: Hacking, data theft, and ransomware are some of the newest threats to online businesses.
- E-commerce: Buying and selling online has become a growth industry since the pandemic. It shows no sign of slowing. As more businesses switch to online sales, regulatory laws are scrambling to catch up with financial concerns.
- Health care: Surprisingly, technology law has focused on the health and life sciences industries. HIPAA and other privacy regulations make computer technology essential for these industries.
Online Privacy and Data Protection
No area has been subject to more legislation than data protection. Laws have come a long way since the venerable Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). This Act prohibits the interception and release of wire, oral, or electronic communications. Although the ECPA includes email and electronically stored data, some legal issues remained as storage formats changed.
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1999 applies to any website with content directed at children under 13. It restricts data collection and requires reasonable parental notification of site usage. The definition of “directed content" is broad enough that any business should get legal advice before gathering user information. Sites have been cited for violating COPPA without realizing it.
Five states now have comprehensive online data privacy laws. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Virginia have laws regarding customer rights to access and delete their own information. Sites must have opt-out rights to data collection and post disclaimers and statements of intent to collect data. Other states have similar laws working through the legislative process. Any new business should contact a legal professional about legal matters regarding data collection.
Do You Need a Technology Lawyer?
How do you know if you need a science and technology lawyer? Tech law is an obscure practice of law. Many attorneys in this field started as in-house attorneys for tech companies' legal departments. As the industry expanded, attorneys branched out into their own firms. Others got their start in intellectual property law or patent law.
All business owners should consult a tech attorney if they do any business online. New regulations are being enacted or go into effect each year in areas that did not exist last year. Startups and new businesses now have to contend with laws affecting the use of artificial intelligence (AI), bitcoin, data management, and more.
Law schools have started offering law students courses on the legal and ethical implications of AI. The ABA has just formed a task force to study AI and the law. If your business uses any type of computer science or technology, you need an attorney on the cutting edge of this field who knows what to expect in the next few years.
Whether you need a patent lawyer or someone more specialized, you need someone familiar with your state laws. Find a science and technology attorney near you for help with your technology legal documents.