A law professor at the University of Surrey is arguing that it should be possible for computer-based artificial intelligence (AI) systems to be formally considered as inventors for any invention they contribute to, much in the same way a person would. The argument forms part of a paper, which has been published in the Boston College Law Review, entitled I Think, Therefore I Invent: Creative Computers and the Future of Patent Law. In its introduction the report makes the point that while inventions by computers have been granted patents previously, the concept of computer inventorship has never actually been considered by the courts. The concept of giving creative computers the credit for their own inventions may sound surreal but, in reality, they have been generating potentially patentable ideas for decades without acknowledgment. As Professor Ryan Abbott points out in his paper, 'machines have been autonomously generating patentable results for at least twenty years and the pace of such invention is likely increasing.'
Three years after Elon Musk announced in his famous "All Our Patent Are Belong To You" blog post that Tesla would be opening all of its patents to the public, he tweeted a recommendation of Max Tegmark's recent book Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence--which just happens to allude to a not-too-distant future world in which, based on current patent law, all inventions might be free and open to the public. In this story, superhuman general artificial intelligence is secretly created by humans, and its creation began the end of human invention.
Computers should be allowed to patent their inventions, experts have claimed. They say without a change in the law, the findings warn that there will be less innovation, caused by uncertainty, which would prevent industry from capitalising on the huge potential of creative computers. They say the future will bring more disputes over inventorship, with individuals taking credit for inventions that are not genuinely theirs, they say. Researchers say uncertainty could stifle innovation unless the changes are made. We are also likely to see disputes over inventorship, they say.
The growing capabilities and widening use of artificial intelligence applications (AI apps) in mainstream consumer devices (eg Siri on the iPhone 6S and Amazon's Alexa being just two examples, plus the whole conversations-as-a-platform development) are converging to poise interesting intellectual property challenges. While currently the most sophisticated of these apps are, at best, in an advanced-alpha or early-beta version, this technology is fueled by innovation moving at an exponential rate. About six months ago I became involved in an intellectual property infringement case involving artificial intelligence applications. But – finally – my academic work in AI was bearing fruit. The case involves what are called Level B apps, part of a computational capability-continuum first proposed by Eran Kahana who is a technology and intellectual property attorney with extensive IP experience and a senior Fellow at Stanford Law School.
Ask a child what an inventor looks like and they will probably describe someone in a moth-eaten white coat with wild hair, mixing colourful chemicals and turning dials on bizarre machines in a makeshift laboratory. But ask the same question of a child in the not-so-distant future and they might instead describe an inventing machine, a computer powered by artificial intelligence (AI), to which humanity has outsourced all innovation. As AI becomes more powerful, the role it plays in the creative process becomes more problematic, particularly for those involved in crafting intellectual property (IP) laws. IP laws are usually conceived to encourage innovation and economic growth, to offer fair compensation for creative work or to respect the dignity and honour of the creator. "Like most legislation, [IP law] is about pragmatic compromise between different stakeholders with different ideals and objectives," says Carrick Flynn, research project manager with the University of Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute.