On August 22, 2019, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published a request for comments on patenting artificial intelligence inventions. Written comments must be received on or before October 11, 2019. The AI inventorship issue came to a head earlier this year when the inventor of an algorithm named DABUS (device for the autonomous bootstrapping of unified sentience) filed beverage container and flashing light patent applications in DABUS' name in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States. Additionally, many today see patent eligibility as a significant hurdle to obtaining patent protection in AI technologies. China and the United States lead in patent filings in all AI techniques and functional applications, as well as AI application fields.
Artificial intelligence (AI) issues in intellectual property are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. For example, the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has issued "thousands of patents on AI technologies."1 The Persado Message Machine, which creates written content by way of data science and AI and is used by "[o]ver 250 of the world's most valuable brands," can generate marketing messages in 25 languages.2 And the University of Surrey in the UK just filed two patent applications--one that claims a "beverage container based on fractal geometry" and one that claims a device "that may help with search and rescue operations"--alleged to be the first inventions "created autonomously by artificial intelligence (AI) without a human inventor."3 Perhaps given these developments, the PTO has decided that the time is now to begin asking questions that broadly address how AI shifts our basic understanding of patent law concepts like inventorship, eligibility, enablement, and the level of ordinary skill in the art.
The Northern District of California confirmed this approach by invalidating claims directed to automatically generating an "ensemble" of machine learning models under § 101 stating that it was directed towards "mathematical processes that not only could be performed by humans but also go to the general abstract concept of predictive analytics rather than any specific application."
The number of patents for inventions based on artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning continues to grow rapidly. Some of these inventions relate to AI technology per se, and some relate to the use of AI in specific applications, including many in healthcare, financial services and blockchain, among other industries. The USPTO has addressed various aspects of intellectual property issues with these technologies in various ways, including in an event it hosted entitled "Artificial Intelligence: Intellectual Property Policy Considerations (January 2019)." Due to some of the unique issues with these technologies, the USPTO is considering whether it should make any changes to how it handles examination of these applications. As part of this analysis, the USPTO issued a request for public comments on protection and examination of these inventions.
There has been a surge in applications of machine learning over the last few years as companies look for ways to leverage big data in their products and services. That has corresponded with a big increase in another type of machine learning application – i.e. those sent to the United States Patent and Trademark Office for protection. But the ramifications of the machine learning-patent uptick are not yet clear. Statistical and anecdotal evidence suggests we're in the midst of major upswing in patent protection requests for machine learning inventions. While hard numbers can be tough to come by due to intricacies of the USPTO process (and the fact that it will conceal applications upon request), several researchers have identified what they see as a surge in interest in protecting machine learning products over the past several years.