The patentability of AI-based inventions

Former US President Abraham Lincoln once called the patent system one of the three greatest advances in human history and for more than 200 years patents have promoted innovation, protected human creativity and driven economic progress.

However, the current version of the US Patents Act was adopted in 1952. This was a time before the term Artificial Intelligence (AI) had been coined, and where the idea that machines would one day be able to create independently was unimaginable, except maybe to a few science fiction novelists.

The vast increase in computing power in the decades since, and the amount of data we produce, has enabled the development of many different applications using AI. Indeed the development has progressed to a stage where AI applications have now become creators themselves by learning from the data they are given, and coming up with novel solutions to problems facing humanity.

Naturally the humans behind these AI applications still want to profit from their work, and more than 340.000 patent applications mentioning AI has been made since 1952.

The US legislation, and that of most other countries1,doesn’t recognise inventions made by a computer, stating instead that the inventor has to be an individual. This has created legal tension in the field, and a 2014 US Supreme Court ruling against the patentability of abstract ideas has affected the AI industry, as software or “computer-implemented inventions” often gets characterised as such.

Patent legislation is meant to promote creativity and progress, but in the case of AI it is now doing the exact opposite and stiffling it instead, according to researchers like Ryan Abbott, a professor of law and health sciences at the University of Surrey. Abbott suggests that we need to change the law and allow creative computers to be considered inventors.

That leaves one big question: Are we as humans ready to assign intellectual property rights to a machine, share our currently exclusive “right” to creative thinking, and thus make AI-based inventions truly patentable? Or, are Sci-Fi doomsday scenarios of sentient machines taking over the world still too deeply entrenched in our consciousness?

(1) The Chinese legislation is the major exception, calling for a strengthened protection of intellectual property in the field of AI, as well as improving “patent protection and standardization of interactive support mechanism to promote the innovation of AI intellectual property rights.”


Seek the truth and report it!

In 2019, after 25 years of internet for us mere mortals, we have more or less unlimited access to a world of online information and news. Ironically, this seems to have made it harder than ever before to discern what is true and what isn’t.

Four years ago in the pre-Trump era, not many people gave a toss about so-called fake news. Personally, I only became absorbed in the ethics of traditional media after watching a UK tabloid literally hunt down and destroy a friend of mine.

But boy, things have certainly changed since then. The concept of fake news is now on everybody’s lips. Unfortunately this change hasn’t made people any better at distinguishing between fact and opinion. They say that the first step in solving any problem is recognising there is one, so why does it feel like we’ve taken two steps backwards instead?

No quality (control)

For more than a hundred years we have had journalists and editors to do quality control of stories that enter the public sphere. They have checked facts and figures and presented us with their findings. Whenever they failed to fact check their stories properly, someone else usually found out and loudly lambasted them for their mistakes. This has created an unconscious belief that anything published in papers, radio or TV must be true.

Now these ingrained beliefs have been shaken to the core. In a world that’s being taken over by social media, this element of journalistic quality control has suddenly been removed. Anybody can publish a story and once it’s out there being posted and re-posted around the world; suddenly nobody knows where it originated. If you repeat something enough times, people are bound to believe it. In other words – If it has gone viral, it must be true right?

We have indeed entered a post-truth era, so much so that if a polititician doesn’t like the facts he or she is presented with, they cry fake news and paint themselves as a victim of nefarious forces trying to stop their message, and voila – problem solved!

Traditional media is struggling. Not many want to pay for something the can get for free online. So they end up with two choices. One, they can follow the tabloids and online media into sensationalism and misleading headlines. Two, they can stay true to the code and “seek the truth and report it”. The latter option is a lot more troublesome, it requires research, hard work and time; and the benefits might not be immediate or financial. That is why so many, even those branding themselves as serious media, is treading a slippery slope and focusing on content that can bring in immediate advertising revenue.

Hat’s off

In other words, it is getting increasingly harder, even for well-educated and well-read people to figure out what is up and down, and knowing where to go for reliable information. When we are constantly bombarded with new information, there’s no time to critically assess and contemplate what we see and hear. More than ever we need media that we can trust to tell us the truth; not to spin it in a way which only serves to make money.

However, I’m determined to see light at the end of the tunnel, and I do think there’s hope yet. In my current job within financial services, I’ve met many passionate and hardworking money journalists, dedicated to helping people and enable them to make informed decisions by seeking the truth and reporting it. I tip my hat to you and wish you luck in your battle with trolls and click-bait purveyors.