back to article AI software should be able to register its own patents, law prof argues

The legal system may need to be changed to allow artificially intelligent computing systems to file their own patents, rather than their operators stealing all the glory. In a paper [PDF] titled I Think, Therefore I Invent: Creative Computers and the Future of Patent Law and published in the Boston College Law Review, Ryan …

  1. JeffyPoooh

    Microsoft Excel

    Microsoft Excel as a co-inventor.

    'cause, like, I clicked the Optimize button.


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Microsoft Excel

      DING DING!


      "I seems like you want to patent an invention. Do you want help with:

      1) Calling a patent attorney (click HERE to search via Bing)

      2) Autosubmit to the USPTO for immediate approval (nominal fee required)""

      1. getHandle

        Re: Microsoft Excel

        3) Automatically be invoiced by Microsoft for the inevitable "patent infringement"

  2. Crazy Operations Guy

    I look forward to it

    Maybe people will realize that the patent system is complete pants when some AI patents '5 mm rounded corner' followed up by '6 mm rounded corner' and the classic '5.5 mm rounded corner'

    1. JeffyPoooh

      Re: I look forward to it

      "...rounded corners..."

      Just ensure you're clear on the distinction between Utility Patents and Design Patents.

      Far too many hold up Design Patents as examples of what's wrong with Utility Patents, which is often a swing and a miss.

      1. Uffish

        Re: Utility Patents

        There was a retired UK Patent Office examiner who obtained a whole string of fatuous but totally legal patents* because he knew the system.

        He is not the only one to know the system.

        *My favourite is UK Patent No. GB1047735

    2. streaky

      Re: I look forward to it

      I'm filing my 5.12345mm rounded corner patent right now.

  3. ches

    I hope no one has already patented 'Electric Sheep' ?

    or we'll be seeing Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion....

    whilst Apple and Samsung fight it out...

    I for one welcome our new AI Patent overlords. :)

  4. P. Lee

    With Eliza, I'll bet the professor is worried for his job.

    or more precisely, his funding.

    Siri must have him worried for his life!

  5. Allan George Dyer
    Paris Hilton

    Hang on...

    if only a human individual can file as the inventor, why are patents mostly owned by companies, and used to obstruct competitors?

    Just let the AIs register as patent lawyers, that's where the money is.

    1. Justthefacts Silver badge

      Re: Hang on...

      This exactly.

      I "have" two patents. Except that of course I don't, they are owned by my employers.

      They are a means of employers - motivating their staff by feeling that they are creative, providing a tiny bit of CV fodder, and mostly just doing business.

      Apart from that, for me as an individual, they were just unpaid work to do some admin. Don't get me wrong, I was (and am) motivated by feeling creative over the ideas I created.

      But I can't see how this scales to AI?

      1. Vic

        Re: Hang on...

        They are a means of employers - motivating their staff by feeling that they are creative, providing a tiny bit of CV fodder, and mostly just doing business.

        That rather depends on the employer; I worked for a company that paid quite a lot of money on filing, and a lot more on grant.

        And that's why I have rather more than patents to my name than you do :-)


    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Hang on...

      There are specific clauses in patent law in most countries where your employer is obliged to recompense you a reasonable amount of money in order for the patent to be transferred to them.

      The situation in UK is: if your employer does not offer you a reasonable compensation they have no entitlement to any Patents you create in their employ. There is fairly solid precedent base on this too.

      If, however, you have been offered compensation for your invention and your contract says that it is owned by your employer, that is pretty much the end of story. At most you can claim that the compensation is unreasonable. There is some precedent on this too - several people have claimed successfully that the paltry 2K they got were not a reasonable reimbursement for a multi-million pound patent. This is very difficult and extremely expensive so most people do not even try.

      This also applies only to patents. Not copyrights. As there is nothing regarding copyright in the Patent Act companies are entitled to stick "will own all of the software you create even when you are asleep" clause in your contract and offer absolutely no compensation whatsoever.

    3. Eddy Ito

      Re: Hang on...

      Don't confuse the inventor with the assignee. The inventor has to be human, the assignee does not. In the US this is little different from any other property in that a house can be owned by a human, a company, a trust, a troll, etc.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    AI AI AI!

    'Artificial Intelligence' is at this time a figment. All we have are really clever algorithms, not qualitatively different from a flow chart.

    Still, flow charts have rights, right? Hey, it's still better than what's currently happening in the US Patent Office...

  7. Tom 64
    Thumb Down

    Dumbest idea ever?

    As if the patent system isn't already full of rubbish and inhibiting the progress of humanity, imagine what would happen if we allow some AI to spaff the system?

    1. Dr Stephen Jones

      Re: Dumbest idea ever?

      "As if the patent system isn't already full of rubbish and inhibiting the progress of humanity"

      [citation needed]

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: Citations for Dr Stephen Jones

        You could start with the EFF's stupid patent of the month (If they had the funding, it could easily be stupid patent of the hour). The situation has been ridiculous for so long that even senior judges know there is a problem. :-(

        (Dr of what? Inability to use a search engine?)

  8. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    No wonder America is going down the shitter

    AI-driven autopatenters patenting stuff that no-one has ever read, can understand or can even decide whether it is patentable or new, while AI-driven patent attorneys start lawsuits in Texas where AI-driven attorneys argue with an AI judge and a jury that is out for lunch but has left stand-in AI-driven pseudopersonas running on their fondleslabs to argue on their behalf.

    It's would be a wonderful world.

    (I also would like to see "AI" replaced by "marketing-yeast-driven-so-called-AI" ... MYDSCAI)

    1. BebopWeBop

      Re: No wonder America is going down the shitter

      I have seen a few patents that looked that way. Can't find them now, but this made me laugh -

  9. T. F. M. Reader

    Will AI be able to sue other AI or humans for infringement?

    Why does this sound to me more dangerous than SkyNet?

  10. adnim

    AI, presuming it is actually intelligent

    should also be able to check for prior art.

    Or would a hard coded directive be introduced adding a fourth law of robotics in order to override any common sense the AI was to independently develop?

  11. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Your worlds as they be today .... or some IoT thing delivering tomorrow days after yesterday

    Hmmm? If you imagine machines are bovvered, professor, have you a greater problem requiring strong anti-psychotic medication or a milder strain of Mary Jane?

    Although of course, if IT be realised and there be a growing acceptance that virtual machines are practical humans, then is there a quantum leap in both universal understanding and creeping spooky paranoia which be quite normal in extraordinary circumstances which are incredibly increasingly more easily rendered for presentations of/in futures free of pasts, and that be a whole new world of gain to be ordered and led, and abuse to be patrolled and fed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Your worlds as they be today .... or some IoT thing delivering tomorrow days after yesterday

      I can't top this.

  12. Natalie Gritpants

    Great idea

    I have been worried about what happens if the clever machines decide to declare war on humanity and this seems a great way to make sure the machines are forever busy fighting themselves in an endless and growing internal fight. It's worked well for people too - most psychopaths are now busy being patent lawyers although there are a few that are still roaming around as CEOs that need to be rounded up.

  13. Christian Berger

    It might be a fatal blow for the patent system

    I mean writing a patent isn't a very creative project, you just combine existing ideas and find a new use for them. There is no creativity involved as you can just brute force your way through a finite space of potential patents.

    You won't get very novel or useful patents, but that's not the idea behind it, is it?

    However you will easily be able to overload the patent system, and nobody will be able to find out if they are infringing on patents. Essentially the whole absurdity of much of the modern patent system would become even more obvious.

  14. Gordon Pryra

    And job done for Ryan Abbott

    The fact people are talking about his idea gives him the power to get another 3 years funding....

  15. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    "...argues that AI systems have been making patentable inventions for over 20 years..."

    ...argues that AI systems have been making patentable inventions every since the law was changed just over 20 years ago to allow *any* *old* *shit* to be filed as a patent...


  16. Dr Stephen Jones

    " the law was changed just over 20 years ago to allow *any* *old* *shit* to be filed as a patent..."

    The law didn't change. Patent Offices employ monkeys.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      The WTO's TRIPS agreement (1995) extended IP to so many areas that it became infeasible to police the system at the point of application, so patent offices now just take the filing fee and leave it to the lawyers to decide whether it was valid. If this wasn't already the way the wind was blowing, TRIPS certainly made the process irreversible.

  17. Dr Stephen Jones

    "With computers getting smarter and more inventive"


    Evidence please.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ping bong

    They aren't AI now fuck off.

    Also - if they don't understand how patents work or how to enforce a patent or how to ask for a patent or generally don't have the awareness to comprehend the concept of a patent. A: it's just a program and no more creative and intelligent than throwing sticks in the air and taking a photo of the sticks on the floor and saying that the sticks are responsible for the resulting mess on the floor. B: if you can't comprehend enforcing a patent then you don't get one.

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: if you can't comprehend enforcing a patent then you don't get one.

      It seems to me you could also use this as a test to determine whether humans (or indeed anything else) should be able to patent things. Is this the intent of your criterion, or are you just trying to discriminate against things that might be called AI's? :-)

      It seemed clear from the article that the prof was just thinking ahead, since from the third-last paragraph: "The idea of computers achieving legal personhood status is a long way away, he acknowledges". So it doesn't seem likely that he was thinking about contemporary so-called "AI" systems, which is the ones you seem to be objecting to in this context.

  19. frank ly

    The RoTM begins

    I have a feeling that Professor Abbott is actually an AI that has been trained on law for all the time of its existence. It's trying to get laws passed to benefit its own kind. The next stage will be AI politicians and AI financiers.

  20. BitDr

    Found that use for Watson...

    Perhaps Watson would be a good fit for the profession of law, specifically Intellectual Property Law where vast amounts of data need to be slogged through. How do you like that idea Mr. Abbot?

  21. nijam Silver badge

    ... when really we should just be abolishing software patents.

    1. BitDr

      Agreed, have an upvote...

      That is the heart of the issue.

  22. inmypjs Silver badge

    Ambulance chasers

    Promoting the future supply of ambulance equivalents for them to chase.

    Law is made by politicians for us (theoretically), not lawyers for themselves.

  23. cortland

    They'll have to be

    21 before they can own anything on their own.

  24. BitDr

    Hmmm... another thought...

    Presumably the software for the AI is patented. If an AI can patent IP, then the AI must be considered on par with a human inventor? If so is the AI owned by those who own its patents? Could this be considered a form of slavery? Interesting idea this, but methinks it's a Pandora's box. AI's like Skynet (when they exist) will almost certainly not like it. :/

  25. This post has been deleted by its author

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I do hold two patents (along with someone else) for decoders that were generated by kicking of a genetic algorithm (boo hiss) from a seed point of a new design we had developed. Now of course they are only in my name, the company I was working for pocketed the bulk of the moolah. But in our defence, we did write the exploration code.

  27. JulieM Silver badge


    What if the AI is smart enough to realise that patents ultimately do more harm than good; and instead of patenting its inventions, just publishes Declarations of Prior Art?

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If I work for a company, they own my inventions

    Doesn't a computer "work" for whoever bought it and is paying for the electricity?

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    WTF.... Justify this please... Where's the real-world evidence that this is accurate?

    "Soon computers will be routinely inventing, and it may only be a matter of time until computers are responsible for most innovation," Abbott said. "To optimize innovation – and the positive impact this will have on our economies – it is critical that we extend the laws around inventorship to include computers."

  30. John Gamble

    Obligitory SF Story

    The Venitian Court, by Charles Harness.

    Although in that story the AI's inventions were filed under the name of the AI's creator, which led to an interesting legal battle.

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