ARMONK, N.Y. - 09 Jan 2017: IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it broke the U.S. patent record with 8,088 patents granted to its inventors in 2016, marking the 24th consecutive year of innovation leadership. IBM's 2016 patent output covers a diverse range of inventions in artificial intelligence and cognitive computing, cognitive health, cloud, cybersecurity and other strategic growth areas for the company. "Leading the world in innovation for 24 years in a row is a result of IBM's unmatched commitment to innovation and R&D–reflected in this year's new U.S. patent record, breaking the 8,000 barrier for the first time," said Ginni Rometty, IBM's chairman, president and CEO. "We are deeply proud of our inventors' unique contributions to discovery, science and technology that are driving progress across business and society and opening the new era of cognitive business." More than 8,500 IBM inventors residing in 47 states and territories and 47 countries are responsible for IBM's record-setting 2016 patent tally.
Most of us know that DATA, the beloved android from Star Trek, The Next Generation, is an artificial intelligence (AI) life form from the distant future with a high capacity to problem solve and innovate. But, if DATA were present today and invented a new technology, could he be an inventor on a patent for his invention? The question of whether AI can legally be an inventor on a patent was recently addressed by the European Patent Office (EPO) and The United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO). The same question is still being evaluated by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) along with solicitation for comments to the patent community. A group from the University of Surrey, in the United Kingdom (UK), recently challenged the definition of "inventor" in Europe and the United States by filing two separate patent applications designating an AI entity as an inventor.
An artificial intelligence system has been refused the right to two patents in the US, after a ruling only "natural persons" could be inventors. The US Patent and Trademark Office rejected two patents where the AI system Dabus was listed as the inventor, in a ruling on Monday. US patent law had previously only specified eligible inventors had to be "individuals". It follows a similar ruling from the UK Intellectual Property Office. And its creator, physicist and AI researcher Stephen Thaler, had argued that because he had not helped it with the inventions, it would be inaccurate to list himself as the inventor.
Patents are given to inventions, which are usually the product of a human mind. But what about inventions that come from not-so-human sources, like artificial intelligence (AI)? Should these patents be awarded to their computer inventors? Well, at least one expert patent attorney thinks so. Ryan Abbott is a professor of law and health sciences at the University of Surrey's School of Law, and he is a patent attorney at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Tracing the origins of US patent law, Thomas Jefferson stated that an "inventor ought to be allowed a right to the benefit of his invention for some certain time" to encourage "men to pursue ideas which may produce utility." Consistently, under US patent law, an invention requires conception, which is "the formation in the mind of the inventor, of a definite and permanent idea of the complete and operative invention," where the "inventor" refers to an "individual." The Federal Circuit explained that to "perform this mental act, inventors must be natural persons and cannot be corporations or sovereigns." The remainder of the Patent Act is also replete with references to human actions. When the Patent Act was put in place, there was likely no need to characterize the inventive process as being performed by anything other than people, because there were no such other "beings".