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Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute

Building Trust in the Digital Economy - CCLS Partnership with ARGANS and the European Space Agency

CCLS experts Professor Ian Walden, Dr Noam Shemtov and Dr Michaela MacDonald have joined ARGANS Ltd in a research project, commissioned by the European Space Agency, as a part of a continuous effort to stimulate innovation within the Earth Observation sector.

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Image courtesy ESA Copernicus Sentinel 2
Image courtesy ESA Copernicus Sentinel 2

CCLS experts Professor Ian Walden, Dr Noam Shemtov and Dr Michaela MacDonald have joined ARGANS Ltd in a research project, commissioned by the European Space Agency (ESA), as a part of a continuous effort to stimulate innovation within the Earth Observation (EO) sector. EO refers to the use of remote sensing technologies to monitor land, marine and atmosphere. The images are processed and analysed in order to extract different types of information that can serve a very wide range of applications and industries. The digital economy, the ubiquity of geo-spatial tools and big data models are disrupting the market by driving traditional business models towards digital services based on strong computing power, cloud-based platforms and the fusion of more and more data sources.

Cloud computing is a central element in broadening the use of satellite imagery for scientific, social and economic purposes. Cloud computing enables new and easier ways to access data and facilitates large-volume data storage. Beyond simply accessing and storing the data, however, cloud computing provides the on-demand delivery of computing power, servers, databases, networking, software, analytics and other resources that greatly support the development of new applications and solutions within the geospatial market. The research project ishas been commissioned by ESA in order to examine the legal and technological ecosystem in which EO is being licenced, with a view to encouraging the uptake of cloud computing platforms by the wider EO community.

The research establishes the scope of protection afforded by intellectual property and contract law to EO-derived products and services in general, and within the cloud computing environment in particular. In the first six months of the project, the research team prepared a preliminary legal analysis, ran a survey of over 100 stakeholders, followed up via one-to-one interviews with selected experts and held a multi-stakeholder workshop on 29 July 2020. These findings and insights provide the basis for identifying potential constraints or gaps in legal protection required for upscaling the commercial use of EO data. Technical solutions, such as using blockchain notary stamping, evidence trail or data provenance, will be tested in the technical implementation phase of the project.

As part of the team's research, they interviewed Joanne Wheeler from Alden Legal, an alumna of CCLS, who is a leading expert in the field of satellite regulation and commercial contracts. She also kindly accepted their invitation to participate in the workshop and joined the first panel discussion of the day - The limits and constraints of applicable laws with regards to the EO sector - together with Professor David Musker (CCLS), Adina Gillespie (GHGSat) and moderator Dr Michaela MacDonald. Joanne has extensive experience having worked at Ofcom, the European Space Agency and in private legal practice in this field for over 20 years. She was awarded an MBE for services to the UK space industry in 2017. She is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Aeronautical Society, trustee of the National Space Centre and chair of the National Space Academy steering board.

Throughout a series of panel discussions and break-out room sessions, the workshop enabled the team to informally assess existing initiatives and articulate recommendations for increasing users’ confidence in adequate protection for their EO-derived products and services in the cloud environment. The event generated a lot of engagement and a number of new important insights into business needs from across the EO industry. The active participation of cloud providers, blockchain and legal experts resulted in a number of clearly stated requirements as well as highlighting gaps in the existing infrastructure. Findings and recommendations will be incorporated into the project’s final report due in March 2021.

The workshop was recorded and can be viewed online.

If you would like to follow this project  further, the research team will be presenting at the ESA Phi-week this year, specifically, the ESA Blockchain Workshop: From Vision to Action on 30 September 2020, 11:30 – 13:30 CEST.