Legal issues: Mining Technology and the Digital Revolution

19 March 2018

Sophie Pignon

Advances in technology used by the mining sector have been gathering pace in recent years. Revolutionized by the advent of mechanized extraction processes in the 1950s, the greatest future potential for the mining sector now involves harnessing the ever-accelerating digital revolution. For the companies that are embracing this new frontier made of drones, 3d printing and driverless trucks, the reward is the full automation of their core processes, with the aim of improved productivity. At the same time, the transformation of production methods is introducing new legal challenges in areas including, among others, intellectual property, the environment and data.

Intellectual property

The increasing use of new technologies triggers the need to use the rules of intellectual property to protect as well as exploit them. Indeed, with net profit margins in the mining industry at some of their lowest levels in the past two decades, it is inevitable that players will seek to copy each other's ideas to try to gain a competitive edge. Mining companies would therefore do well to protect not only the new technology that they design, but also the know-how used to physically produce them. Regarding the exploitation of these assets, innovations conceived within the mining sector and which are capable of being employed in other industries or countries can be licensed to third parties, thereby generating an additional revenue stream. Furthermore, governments are starting to offer incentives to companies which exploit their patents, with substantial tax cuts for profits derived from IP.

Environmental issues

The advent of new mining technologies is inevitably of interest where environmental law is concerned, and the accompanying impact of technological advances on the environment is hoped to be positive. To that extent, legal standards will need to be adapted so that mining companies can take advantage of the possibilities offered by new mining technologies which benefit the environment. For instance, the use of eco-aware technological methods can be encouraged by legal and regulatory processes such as in Africa, where mining processes which consume less energy or release fewer toxic by-products gain priority for the allocation of mining permits.


Companies are starting to collect vast quantities of data through many sources, such as on-site monitors and sensors, which triggers the need to create data analytics centre. However, as companies handle ever larger datasets derived from their processes and employees, cyber security becomes a major concern, as misappropriation of data and it consequences are so severe. In return for efficiency gains, companies will therefore be faced with ever increasing costs to handle and protect their data.

As a conclusion, the legal implications of accelerating technological advances are, equally, largely positive. The development and implementation of new technologies will continue to stimulate intellectual property practices, ever more stringent environmental obligations in the form of legal and regulatory processes will encourage new eco-aware methods, and advances in data collection and analysis will compel companies to embrace higher standards of data protection and security.