21 December 2022

Will AI Chatbots Make Patent Attorneys Obsolete? (No, They Won’t)

AI guy If you have any interest at all in technology, and possibly even if you do not, it is very likely that over the past few weeks you have read or heard something about OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot, which was released for public testing on 30 November 2022.  OpenAI describes itself as ‘an AI research and deployment company’ with a mission ‘to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity.’  It counts Microsoft as a major sponsor, to the tune of a US$1 billion investment that gives OpenAI access to enormous computing resources, in exchange for which Microsoft gains privileged access to OpenAI’s breakthroughs.  ChatGPT’s conversational and question-answering skills are – superficially, at least – impressive.  Naturally, this has led some breathless commentators to suggest that we are on the verge of seeing various professional jobs, including those of lawyers, being replaced by AI machines.  But is ChatGPT really that good, or are people merely being blinded to its limitations by the fact that it is undeniably much better than anything they have seen before?

If language models like ChatGPT are going to replace professional advisors, such as lawyers and patent attorneys, then they will need to demonstrate the standards of competence and reliability (not to mention ethical conduct and responsibility) that the public expects from such advisors.  As we shall see, my experiments with ChatGPT demonstrate that it is nowhere near achieving these standards.  Indeed, there is a serious question as to whether it even represents a viable approach to developing AI with such capabilities.  In any event, there are no signs that machines will be replacing professional advisors in the foreseeable future.

05 December 2022

Why Would IP Australia Encourage Software Innovators to File for Patents?

Bemused IP Australia – the government agency responsible for administration of Australia’s patent, trade mark and design registration systems – has an important role to play in educating the public about the value of intellectual property and the requirements and processes for securing IP rights.  Generally speaking, I think it does a good job of this.  In particular, the News and Community section of IP Australia’s website includes links to many useful webinars and case studies that explain how the various types of IP rights work, and how they may be used to add resilience and value to a business.  This is (presumably) the work of the Communications, Public Awareness & Education team within the Customer Experience Group at IP Australia (see here for information on the organisational structure).  However, a recently-added case study suggests that this team may not be as familiar as it could be with the work of the Policy & Stakeholders Group or the Patents Examination Group.

I am referring to the case study Longtail UX: Patented Digital Products, which was published on 29 September 2022.  The case study discusses the experience of the Australian company Longtail UX (LUX), which describes itself as ‘the world’s first Customer Acquisition Platform’, in deciding to pursue patent protection for its technology.  Put very simply, LUX has developed a software platform that automatically generates additional pages – particularly for e-commerce sites – that are highly relevant to specific search terms by aggregating information (e.g. product descriptions) extracted from existing pages.  The advantage of this is that when someone searches for the specific term, e.g. using Google, the corresponding automatically-generated page will appear far higher in the search results than any of the original pages which were only partly relevant to the search.  Personally, I think that is a pretty clever idea.  And it must work fairly well, because LUX has been around since 2013 and counts many well-known online businesses (both in Australia and overseas) among its clients.

The case study tells the story of a business that started out with no IP protection strategy, and which first considered patents primarily as a marketing tool.  Later on, however, LUX came to realise that patents could add real value that could be important when raising capital or looking at a potential sale of the business.  Now – a number of years and two families of patent applications further down the road – LUX is on the verge of expanding into Europe, and extolling the virtues of engaging patent professionals to guide the company through the complicated process of obtaining patents in Australia and overseas.

Regular readers of this blog will already know what is missing from this encouraging story about patents adding value to an innovative business.  LUX’s inventions are computer-implemented.  And they are applied to the field of search engine marketing.  This does not necessarily mean that they cannot be patented, in Australia or elsewhere.  But it does mean that even if they can be patented, the process these days is very likely to be more complex, drawn out and expensive than would be expected in less contentious fields of technology.  Yet there is no mention of this in the case study, despite the fact that IP Australia has become a world-leader in pushing the limits of patent-(in)eligibility of computer implemented inventions through the courts, and is now one of the more challenging IP offices around the world for obtaining patents on such inventions.

So how is LUX actually faring with its patent acquisition strategy?  I have taken a look at the progress of its applications in Australia, the United States and Europe, and found that its fortunes have been more mixed than the case study reveals.

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