Timothy M. Ravich

Israel: Unmanned Innovation

Thank you to the organizers of “The Many Faces of Innovation” conference at Bar-Ilan University and Ono Academic College.

This week, two of Israel’s prominent universities hosted an international intellectual property conference. Scholars from around the globe convened to discuss appropriate incentive schemes for the regulation (or deregulation) of new innovations.


This blog’s author offered a discussion of the “unmanned” dimension of innovation.


The conference focused deeply on the proper role (including no role) regulators should play in order to encourage and optimize innovations in various sectors, from fashion to health care to patent law.

Among the highlights were presentations that asked the following questions:

  • How can regulators of innovative technologies themselves be encouraged to regulate in innovative ways?
  • How can trademarks be crafted to convey socially positive messages — not merely identify a brand or company?
  • Is intra-agency competition the best way to optimize regulation of innovations?

These questions are particularly interesting as applied to the emerging unmanned aerial vehicle (“UAV”)–“drone”–space. Taking the above questions in order:

  • Regulators of drones have not encouraged UAV operations in either the recreational or commercial sector. Rather, they have overlayed existing regulations applicable to traditional aviation to unmanned aviation.  Where regulators have (and not quickly, but over the course of many years) come forward with new rules, they have generally been so restrictive as to squelch the technology, at least initially.
  • The term “drone” carries negative and militarized connotations. What can commercial drone companies do to rehabilitate or design afresh trademarks that accentuate the socially useful applications of drones, e.g., search and rescue?  Some companies have tried the term “commercial drone,” acknowledging that the harsh term “drone” has probably stuck. But, any non-aviation companies have successfully associated their trade name with a social utility – think Warby Parker, Toms, and Chipotle. What might enterprising commercial drone companies do to show the public that their products or operations do more than turn a profit?
  • Intra-agency competition seems unlikely in the context of drones.  The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) is playing catch-up in many respects to UAV operations, and by its own admission, lacks the institutional competency to address privacy, Fourth Amendment, or other common law (non-safety) related questions. And, it is unclear to what extent FAA collaborates with other entities such as the Department of Justice of Federal Communications Commission in the first place relative to drone operations.  As such, it is not clear what is the best path for regulators to pursue in order to produce the best set of regulations that achieves regulator concerns while optimizing creativity in the private market.