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Bird & Bird LLP is an international law firm which supports organisations being changed by the digital world or those leading that change Image Credit: Supplied

For an industry that has traditionally been reluctant to adopt new approaches, law firms have found themselves navigating the trials and tribulations of emerging technology on behalf of their clients. International law firm Bird & Bird Middle East has taken the lead by working directly with regional and global brands to prepare, manage, and strategise their digital business future.

As digitalisation causes the borders between industries to blur, innovative tech is affecting all levels of operation and each stage of corporate development. For example, rapid developments in artificial intelligence, big data, cloud services and the deployment of new media and telecommunications technology affects almost every industry, according to David Bintliff, partner and head of the Technology & Communications and the Media, Entertainment & Sports sector groups in the Middle East at Bird & Bird. "Disruption, digitisation, digital change, smart cities, digital health, AI, Industry 4.0, Internet of Things, emergence into the data economy – all of these terms describe a fundamental change that all industries and areas of economic life face today" notes Bintliff. "The region itself is witnessing significant digital transformation. Economic diversification is driving focus on and investment in digital. The majority of governments in the GCC have developed ambitious digital strategies. The region's position as a digital and technology hub is no accident, but rather the consequence of forward-thinking government policy and prescient leadership".

Global trends in innovative tech, especially those addressing data privacy, are also informing regional developments for both the private and public sectors. “In Dubai, the driver behind embracing technology, such as artificial intelligence, is to bring happiness to its citizens and residents,” says Anders Nilsson, managing partner of the United Arab Emirates at Bird & Bird . “There’s a focus on increasing efficiency for everyone, rather than merely increasing profitability.”

Whilst the UAE’s regulatory schemes continue to develop, the government is also actively addressing what Bintliff calls the “natural tension between regulation and innovation.”

In Dubai, the driver behind embracing technology, such as artificial intelligence, is to bring happiness to its citizens and residents. There’s a focus on increasing efficiency for everyone, rather than merely increasing profitability.

- Anders Nilsson, Managing Partner in the UAE, Bird and Bird Middle East

As regulatory laws for digital businesses vary significantly around the world, the UAE has been able to experiment and create an ecosystem that incorporates established best practices from successful innovation hubs, like Silicon Valley. “Regionally, governments are exploring the US model for growth to find the balance between innovation and regulation,” he adds.

The Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) is a good example of this approach in action. “Smaller fintech companies are excused from certain regulatory requirements until they scale up, which creates a conducive environment for growth that still benefits from effective and appropriate oversight,” Nilsson explains.

Along with a willingness to embrace innovative tech, the UAE is actively positioning itself as a leader of the digital revolution. Through strategic investments in innovative tech companies and start-ups, as well as legislative advancements, the country is building a competitive environment that supports companies through their digital transformations.

“The country is relatively young and has several advantages as businesses face the challenges of digitalisation,” Nilsson continues. “For example, in many areas, we don’t have the difficulty of overcoming legacy legal systems, which is a significant issue clients face in some other jurisdictions.”

For example, the recent adoption of bankruptcy and competition laws, as well as a value-added tax (VAT) system, will lead to more transparency and predictability, and thus more inherent trust from companies and consumers. For data privacy, Bintliff notes that the Dubai International Financial Centre’s new data protection law for financial services companies could be an indication of increasing regulation in this area. "I understand the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) is looking at implementing a data protection law, similar to EU’s introduction of GDPR, as part of the UAE National Cybersecurity Strategy. That would have significant implications on the processing, handling, storage and distribution of data in the UAE".

Dispute resolution is also undergoing a series of innovative developments. Sophisticated investigations to explore matters thoroughly are quickly becoming the standard, whilst internal policies and guidelines have gained a new level of importance.

However, with any innovative technology comes inevitable disruption. Increasingly, businesses also face challenges to their intellectual property rights in various forms, including counterfeiting, which directly impacts brand reputation. Companies then find themselves with the difficult task of managing their online reputations, whilst struggling to counteract bad actors in a battle that often pits digital approaches against each other.

“With the ease of doing business online internationally, we’ve seen more companies recognising their brands and other intellectual property as a valuable asset that needs protection,” says Melissa Murray, partner and head of the Intellectual Property practice in the Middle East at Bird & Bird . “For this reason, our trademark team is seeing more companies that understand why it is critical to file their trademarks in jurisdictions across the region.”

Murray explains that distribution and franchising agreements have been affected in unexpected ways by innovative tech. For fashion companies, tackling unlicensed online shopping portals, which may be trading counterfeit products, is proving business-critical as customers post their impressions online for immediate consumption. “These online shopping platforms are directly affecting brands that have to defend themselves from tech, by using tech,” Murray explains. “New technology, such as AI influencers marketing through unlicensed and unauthorised channels, pose a real challenge for brands,” she explains. AI’s relatively easy scalability and deployment across digital platforms, especially social media spaces, has left companies searching for ways to protect their online (and offline) reputations, as well as intellectual property.

Companies are facing technological challenges that were unimaginable only a few years ago. To succeed in this new landscape of innovative disruption, businesses require commercially conscious legal guidance from forward-thinking firms like Bird & Bird to thrive in the business world of tomorrow.

About Bird & Bird LLP

Bird & Bird LLP is an international law firm which supports organisations being changed by the digital world or those leading that change. We combine exceptional legal expertise with deep industry knowledge and refreshingly creative thinking, to help clients achieve their commercial goals. We have over 1300 lawyers in 30 offices across Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia Pacific, as well as close ties with firms in other parts of the world. If you want to find out more, visit www.twobirds.com