In my patent practice I have encountered an increasing number of clients who work with artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence is becoming a ubiquitous tool in innovative companies active in data engineering, medicine development, image processing, etc.. That means that researchers employ artificial intelligence in their work, which can lead to inventions that are – partly or entirely – the result of an output made by the artificial intelligence. Of course there is nothing special about using a tool to make an invention. Calculators, and later computers that can run entire system simulations, have been used for a long time.
The patent law prescribes that it is immaterial how an invention is made or how much effort is put into it. What counts is the technical contribution itself, and that the invention was not obvious.
But what if an invention is made entirely by an artificial intelligence? What if you could just say “Hey Google, how can I make a thinner smartphone?” – and Google would send you a drawing with an innovative design and manufacturing process of a very thin smartphone that is actually thinner than all existing smartphones, but with the same capabilities?
Who invented the thinner smartphone? Who should get a patent on it?
Of course, the patent laws and conventions were written a long time ago, when such a scenario was unimaginable. Therefore, no effort was made by the legislators to explicitly specify that an inventor must always be a human being.
It may seem ridiculous to specify a machine as Google Assistant, or any artificial intelligence, as inventor. On the other hand it may seem the logical thing to do – didn’t the artificial intelligence come up with the brilliant idea? It may also seem irrelevant who is designated as the inventor – who owns the patent is what counts, doesn’t it?
Once artificial intelligence really would become capable of doing inventions in a particular technical field, this is going to have big consequences for the patent landscape. Think alone of the speed at which a machine can work and the amount of data it can process compared to a human being. These consequences go way beyond the mere question of who or what is the inventor that is mentioned on the first page of a patent.
Therefore, I plan to make a mini-series about this topic, to raise awareness of the many questions (and possible answers). So look out for part 2 next week!