Innovations that originate from computers raise fresh queries concerning Intellectual property.
Legislators are beginning to ponder how artificial intelligence systems play a role in inventive activities such as identifying new medications, as well as how the use of such tools affects what can and cannot be patented.
The issue is fast becoming critical because U.S. law allows patents to be issued only to human inventors, whereas technologists and scientists are demonstrating that in some cases an artificial intelligence system is able to invent a new molecule or design a product that previously eluded humans.
“Make no mistake, AI presents novel questions across a wide range of areas of intellectual property policy,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, said at a recent hearing.
Coons said the panel plans to hold a series of hearings to ensure that innovation generated by artificial intelligence systems remain in the United States, “instead of incentivizing innovators to turn to other countries with more favorable laws to protect their AI-generated inventions.”
During the June 7 hearing, Coons highlighted the findings that scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had uncovered last month. They employed an artificial intelligence system which proved successful in discovering a new antibiotic, the first one to be discovered since the 1980s. He further noted that scientists had previously stopped their search due to the lengthy and costly traditional processes.
Through a library of nearly 7,000 drug compounds and a machine-learning model they trained to evaluate a chemical compound’s ability to inhibit the growth of Acinetobacter baumannii, the cause of pneumonia and meningitis among hospital patients and resistant to the current family of antibiotics, researchers at MIT have discovered a new antibiotic. Their findings were released in a statement from the university.
It is yet undetermined by lawful standards if AI systems or human specialists should be portrayed as makers of the new compound, and this inquiry hasn’t been addressed genuinely by the courts either. In April, the Supreme Court diminished to address a case introduced by PC researcher Stephen Thaler, who proposed for a patent in the US for a beverage compartment and an emergency alert light that had no human contribution, concocted by his man-made consciousness framework.
Thaler’s application was shot down by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office because only humans can be inventors, and the decision was upheld by lower courts, prompting Thaler to seek intervention from the high court.
Fearing that innovation is moving offshore, lawmakers have become alarmed by South Africa’s offer of a patent with an artificial intelligence system listed as the inventor, as reported in the trade publication IPWatchdog.
AI vs. human inventor
Professionals who gave their statements before the Senate Judicial committee expressed that U.S. legislation should acknowledge developments generated with the support of Artificial Intelligence systems, citing humans as the patent holders, yet they varied their opinions of if the regulations should be altered to make Artificial Intelligence be known as the inventor.
An artificial intelligence system may find a new molecule or design a product, but it’s not yet capable of recognizing and appreciating the invention, said Corey Salsberg, head of IP affairs at pharmaceutical giant Novartis.
“The key point I think between invention and noninvention is an area of the law called its recognition and appreciation that is part and parcel of conception,” Salsberg said. Only a conscious human who can recognize a new invention has that capability, Salsberg said. “We don’t believe that, at this point in time, even generative AI is recognizing anything that it is doing,” he said.
AI with generative capabilities, such as ChatGPT, takes in large amounts of text and visuals as input and produces new text and visuals when prompted.
Although Novartis uses a generative AI tool called JAEGER to assist in generating new virtual molecules for treating malaria, “what it’s doing is not equivalent to human inventorship,” Salsberg said.
The tool had to be trained with about 20,000 examples of compounds and then told about three compounds that have anti-malarial properties “to teach it how to design a molecule,” Salsberg said.
During a parliamentary testimony, Ryan Abbott, who is a professor at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom and partner at the law firm Brown Neri Smith & Khan LLP, advocated for the modification of United States law to include patentability for AI-generated inventions.
Abbott, who represented Thaler in the case that the Supreme Court declined to hear, said allowing such inventions to be patented “will provide encouragement to the use and development of inventive AI that will generate more socially valuable inventions.”
According to Abbott, granting patents to Artificial Intelligence (AI) inventions would motivate those with ownership of these systems to divulge their creations rather than maintaining them as confidential information, and inspire the financial investment necessary to turn these inventions into a reality.
Abbott stated that even if a human computer scientist had a part in creating an AI system, unless that person comes up with a specific output, they should not be considered to be an inventor under United States law.
Computer scientists and programmers building an AI system are only analogous to “a human inventor’s teachers, mentors and even parents,” he said. And such teachers and mentors “do not qualify as inventors on their patents — at least, not without directly contributing to the conception of a specific invention.”
According to Laura Sheridan, head of patent policy at Google, there is a “spectrum of inventive behavior” between inventions created solely by humans, unrelated to any Artificial Intelligence (AI), and inventions generated solely through AI; a collaboration between people and AI to various extents, is also possible.
Google believes that only humans should be named as inventors and AI-generated inventions should not be issued a patent, Sheridan said.
According to Sheridan, usage of AI in the present industry is within the realm where humans can still be recognized as the inventors, with AI being a tool in their invention process.
“We anticipate that this will continue to be the same for the foreseeable future.”