How do you patent artificial intelligence inventions in the UK?
Whilst patents can be granted for a range of technologies, there are some areas that fall under the umbrella of ‘excluded matter’. Even though an invention might be new and innovative, it is specifically excluded from being patentable because it pertains to a particular area of technology. Examples include a discovery, an artistic work, or a method for of doing business. Perhaps more importantly however, computer programmes are also excluded from patentability.
As a result, it’s a misconception that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) inventions can’t be patented in the UK. The protection of technological advancements in this rapidly growing sector is still extremely important, so much so that the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) has released guidance for inventors seeking patents for their ideas.
The UKIPO defines AI as: “Technologies with the ability to perform tasks that would otherwise require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, and language translation.”
Whilst a programme for a computer is excluded from patentability, if the programme makes a technical contribution (for example a programme that takes information from sensors and detects whether a pump impeller is cavitating) then the software is not excluded from patentability. The importance here is the AI or ML technology must make a technical contribution to the state of the art.
An AI invention is likely to provide a technical contribution if it:
- carries out or controls a technical process existing outside the computer,
- contributes to the solution of a technical problem, external to the computer,
- solves a technical problem in the computer itself, or
- defines a new way of technically operating a computer.
AI inventions are not excluded if they are claimed in hardware only form (i.e. they don’t rely on program instructions or a programmable device) as they are not then a programme for a computer. AI inventions are likely to be excluded from patentability if they relate to an excluded item, relate solely to processing data, or are a general improvement on a program or conventional computer.
The UKIPO has also released a series of scenarios with background, claim, assessment, and outcome detailed for each one. These focus on the question of excluded matter only, and it should be noted that there would be other considerations when assessing the patentability of an AI or ML invention.
You can access the scenarios here, and the guidelines published by the UKIPO here. For information on patentability, the UKIPO manual of patent practice can be accessed here.
Written by: James Bradley