21 May 2020

Free Online Seminar – Machine Inventors, Fact or Science Fiction?

TeachingIn August 2019 the ‘Artificial Inventor Project’ team led by Ryan Abbott, Professor of Law and Health Sciences at University of Surrey UK, announced that it had filed a number of patent applications naming an artificial intelligence (AI) as inventor.  The AI, called ‘DABUS’, was developed by Missouri-based physicist Dr Stephen Thaler.  The filings – which garnered significant publicity – were a deliberate provocation, calculated to test patent laws and challenge the conventional notion that only a natural person can be an inventor.  The EPO, the UKIPO, and the USPTO have since rejected the applications for failing to meet requirements that an inventor designated in a patent application be a human being.  Even so, various IP organisations, including WIPO, the USPTO, and the EPO, have been actively exploring the implications of machine learning (ML) and AI for patent law and practice, including the question of whether a machine can invent.

So, have we really reached the point at which machines can challenge humans in the realm of creativity and ingenuity?  And, if so, why are we hearing about it from a law professor and a lone developer, rather than in peer-reviewed publications by leading AI research teams, or in media releases from well-known mega-corporations that have invested billions in this technology?  Furthermore, are we really expected to take seriously claims made by Dr Thaler that his AIs exhibit enhanced creativity as a result of infusing symptoms of ‘mental illness’ into their neural networks

Personally, I have been astonished at the lack of scepticism towards claims of machine inventorship, not only in the media, but also among many patent professionals, and within reputable IP offices.  Even the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), in a recent draft issues paper on ‘Artificial Intelligence and Intellectual Property Policy’, went so far as to accept that ‘it would now seem clear that inventions can be autonomously generated by AI’, noting that ‘there are several reported cases of applications for patent protection in which the applicant has named an AI application as the inventor.’

Nonetheless, whatever I might think of DABUS as a specific example, major national and international IP organisations are responding to broader challenges presented by emerging ML technologies that, inventorship aside, raise genuine questions in relation to subject matter eligibility, obviousness, and sufficiency of disclosure. And since ML technologies can be applied in almost any field of endeavour, from engineering design through to drug discovery, these issues are not confined to inventions in the IT space.

Last month, I presented a webinar on this topic to members of the Institute of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys of Australia (IPTA).  I have now recorded a version of that presentation, and am making it available as a free online seminar.  It can be viewed on YouTube, or via the embedded player below.  A PDF copy of the presentation slides [1.12MB] is also available for download.


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