February 26, 2020

Can a computer be an inventor?

Intellectual property underpins progress. If ideas are protected, innovation and creativity can prosper. It’s the backbone of the tech industry, but what happens when the ideas and innovation comes from tech itself?

Computers utilising AI have moved well beyond simple human assistance. Innovative use of AI is now leading to the discovery of medicines, the designing of advanced products and development of video games. It’s just the beginning.

The question that many people are asking is, does this in fact cause computers to be classed as inventors? If so, what does this mean for intellectual property rights? We caught up with Samuel Bird, IP Director at Prevayl®, to find out his opinion.

The need to list the correct inventor

Every patent application must include the inventor or inventors.

According to Sam: “Listing the correct inventors in your patent applications is very important. The UK Intellectual Property Office and European Patent Office have both decided that it is not acceptable to designate an AI as an inventor within the legal framework of the patent system.”

So, legally a computer can’t be listed as an inventor on a European or UK patent application, but this is potentially ignoring the possibilities of computers and the innovation that AI can bring. It also raises the question of who the true inventor is.

Sam continued by saying: “There is still uncertainty about whether the AI or the human that defined how the AI operates is the true inventor”.

This is a fundamental question of which there are many different opinions. If the use of AI can develop new inventions that potentially exceed human capability, can those human minds involved truly claim to be inventors? Have they provided the inventive concept?  

If they haven’t this undermines the efforts and work put in by genuine inventors. To protect the value of inventions, does this require a shift in patent registration legislation to fall in line with advances in technology?

The protection conundrum

Any business in the tech space must protect its ideas. When a business does so through patent protection, only that business can take any commercial advantage from those patentable ideas.

With protection in place they have the room to innovate and develop unique products to benefit consumers and society for the future.

Sam added: “If an AI is capable of being an inventor, it is not currently clear how owners can protect AI generated inventions through patents while still providing an accurate inventorship declaration. Clarity is needed but expect legal tussles over this for years to come.”

There is no question that the use of AI is powering unique ideas, but without this protection tech business, big or small, potentially lose that safety net and the essential space to innovate.

Will the current legal position stifle innovation or enhance human creativity? Or will businesses continue to focus their efforts around AI generated inventions in the hope of proceeding a legal change?

Prevayl’s approach to IP

At Prevayl we’ve invested in our approach to IP and made it a fundamental aspect of our business strategy from the outset.

Innovation, creativity and collaboration are central to our daily working lives, meaning every team and department is continually coming up with new ideas and concepts. To date we’ve filed over 100 patent applications with multiple team members becoming inventors for the first time.