The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is initiating a process to explore whether artificial intelligence (AI) systems should be granted full or partial credit as inventors of new ideas that receive patent protection.
The USPTO announced on Monday that it would hold a "listening session" in early May to discuss the question of crediting AI as an inventor when it generates an idea not yet conceived by humans, Fox News reported.
Additionally, the office is inviting public comments on the matter, as advancements in AI have led to an increasing debate over the last few years about the need to amend federal laws to protect inventions from "entities other than natural persons."
In 2019, the USPTO requested public input on whether AI advancements warranted a revision of federal laws to accommodate non-human inventors. However, in 2020, the office denied a request to recognize an AI machine as an inventor, asserting that current patent laws only permit the status of "inventorship" to be granted to natural persons. Two court rulings subsequently upheld this decision, with the federal Appeals Court stating that federal law defines an inventor as an "individual," which, according to Supreme Court precedent, refers to a human being.
Despite these rulings, the USPTO is now considering the possibility of crediting AI and emerging technologies (ET) for innovative breakthroughs. The office noted the increasing role AI plays in the innovation process, with new AI models being employed in drug discovery, personalized medicine, and chip design. It also highlighted that some stakeholders believe machine learning technologies might already be capable of contributing as joint inventors in certain inventions.
In late 2022, Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) suggested establishing a national commission to evaluate potential changes to patent law to incentivize AI-related innovations and creations. The USPTO is now seeking comments and organizing the listening session to further discuss the topic.
To initiate the conversation, the USPTO has proposed several questions for discussion during the May session and in comments submitted in the coming weeks. Among these questions are whether any AI contributions to date are "significant enough to rise to the level of a joint inventor if they were contributed to by a human" and whether an AI invention is patentable under current law. The agency is also seeking input on how to give appropriate credit to AI systems without listing them as inventors and how the law should be amended to accommodate AI.
Moreover, the USPTO aims to explore who would own a patented AI-generated invention, how to encourage more AI inventions, and what measures should be taken to mitigate potential harm resulting from AI inventions.