31 January 2020
In this opinion piece for Raconteur’s Intellectual Property report, we consider how inventors will be impacted as AI develops.
A lot has been said about how artificial intelligence (AI) might revolutionise the world of intellectual property (IP), perhaps replacing humans as inventors or taking over existing IP systems. Let’s cut through the hype and consider what we can realistically expect.
term AI is often used loosely. I use it to mean machine-learning, whether
guided or loosely constrained, to detect patterns or produce inferences or
outputs based on what the machine has “studied” rather than its original
programmer. Machine-learning usually needs lots of data to learn and the line
with data analytics is often blurred.
with the basics, there are undoubtedly advances in the way machine-learning
operates or can be computationally implemented efficiently and these advances
may be patentable, just as for other inventions.
many commercial applications of AI involve taking generally known AI techniques
and applying them to a data-crunching problem and this alone is unlikely to be
there may be protectable IP in the detail of how this is done effectively in a
given case. An expert can advise on whether there is likely to be commercially
worthwhile protection to seek in a particular application or if simply keeping the
data is the key.
colourful debate has involved whether a machine can itself be an inventor or an
author, or speculation about one AI filing its own patent applications and
another “official” AI examining them. I participated in a public debate with
the UK Intellectual Property Office and AI evangelists on the practical, legal and
moral implications of this.
applications have been filed for an invention naming an AI as inventor, with a
notion that this was deliberately done to test boundaries. The UK and European
patent offices have both ruled that an AI cannot be an inventor. Academic
debate may continue on such questions as how do you determine the term of
copyright which depends on the life of an author, if the author is a machine. But
for now, at least for businesses, the issues are thankfully clear.
real impact of AI will take place behind the scenes; companies will use AI in
design and competitor analysis, but let the human directing the AI take the
credit. There is a close parallel with the issues when a semi-autonomous
vehicle has a collision: the driver is responsible. To a pilot these issues are
nothing new; the captain is ultimately in command and responsible whether or not
he or she chooses to rely on autopilot or other systems to assist in navigation
one sense this is just normal use of technology, in the same way computer-aided
design and computer-aided manufacturing simplified getting from concept to product
or word processors and spreadsheets and databases assisted document production and
accounting and filing.
new issue is that AI may make it easier for what I term “artificial inventing”
based on analysing apparent gaps in the prior art; it is often more productive
to task smart humans to make positive inventions whereas an AI can work 24/7
just looking for gaps. There are also so-called AI tools for searching and
assisting with preparing patent applications which I have seen; AI will creep into
the field of analysing, selecting, examining and even writing patent applications
from all directions.
Some balance to this is that machine-learning works well with a training dataset to spot patterns in “what is”; good examples being image processing or identifying anomalous behaviour. However, inventions must be unique and it is less straightforward for AI to deal helpfully with an open-ended “what isn’t”.
We should embrace AI tools where they can help, but don’t expect them to replace expert strategic human insight or fundamentally change IP in the next few years.
This article was first published in Raconteur ‘s Intellectual Property report in January 2020 (page 7).
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