Artificial Intelligence (AI) has become a crucial tool for organizations in various sectors, particularly in the generation of content and code by generative AI systems such as ChatGPT, GitHub Copilot, AlphaCode, Bard and DALL-E, among other tools. As the promise of incorporating these generative tools in the corporate setting is all but assured in the near term, there are a number of risks that need to be minimized as companies more forward. In particular, as AI applications grow increasingly sophisticated, they raise concerns with several forms of intellectual property (IP), such as patents, copyrights, and trade secrets. This article aims to discuss these issues and provide a sample company policy for using AI-generated content such as software code.
Bacon is delightful. And the similarly savory subject of who must be named inventor on a bacon patent was the issue in the recent case of HIP, Inc. v. Hormel Foods Corp., No. 2022-1696 (Fed. Cir. May 2, 2023). HIP claimed that one of its employees materially contributed to the invention of Hormel’s patent on methods for precooking bacon. The question of what makes one an “inventor” was central to whether HIP’s employee should be added to the patent. More broadly, questions about inventorship and authorship have become central to recent commentary and speculation about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on intellectual property law. While AI did not factor into HIP v. Hormel, the decision provides a useful reminder about the role of the common law in developing answers to these momentous questions.
The issue of AI inventorship in the United States remains at large following the Supreme Court’s denial of cert in Thaler v. Vidal, meaning that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) finding that AI cannot be considered a named inventor to a patent application remains the law of the land. Now that the agency is seeking public comments on the issue of AI inventorship, I reached out to Dr. Thaler to get his comments on the current AI inventorship debate within the patent space.
On May 2, Northeastern University hosted the IP awareness and literacy organization The Center for Intellectual Property Understanding (CIPU) for its 6th Intellectual Property Awareness Summit (IPAS), titled Bridges, Not Barricades. The view of Boston’s skyline from the 17th floor conference room on St. Botolph Street served as an appropriate backdrop to a series of expert panels exploring efforts to unleash the next generation of American economic development by accelerating popular understanding of the value of obtaining IP rights.
On Tuesday, the European Patent Office (EPO) announced the 12 inventors and inventor teams that have been selected as finalists for the 2023 European Inventor Award. The EPO placed three finalists each into four groups: Industry, Research, SMEs, and Non-EPO Countries. Members of the public can vote for the winner on the EPO’s website. The finalists hail from 12 countries, Australia, Austria, Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, and the United States. An independent jury of former European Inventor Award finalists used their expertise to select this year’s finalists.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), in a precedential decision, today reversed a district court holding that an inventor should be added as a joint inventor for his contributions to a patent for methods of pre-cooking bacon and meat pieces. The CAFC said the inventor’s contribution did not satisfy the three-part test articulated in Pannu v. Iolab Corp. because the contribution was “insignificant in quality.”
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) held its East Coast Listening Session on AI Inventorship today, featuring both USPTO staff and patent stakeholder speakers contemplating possible approaches to patenting in a world in which generative artificial intelligence (AI) almost seems to have snuck up on everyone. While many speakers cautioned against moving too quickly to change the rules for AI-generated inventions, others warned that doing nothing could result in chaos for the USPTO and grave economic and innovation losses for the country.
One day before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is set to hold its first public listening session on AI inventorship, the U.S. Supreme Court today denied certiorari in the case of Thaler v. Vidal, which asked the Court to consider the question: “Does the Patent Act categorically restrict the statutory term ‘inventor’ to human beings alone?” Dr. Stephen Thaler lost his case at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) last August, when the CAFC said the USPTO’s reading of the statute as clearly referring to inventors as natural person was “unambiguously” correct.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) sent out an email alert on March 16, 2023 about its transition to eGrants for patents. This change to electronic patent grants as opposed to paper patents is in accord with the USPTO’s continued changes to an all-electronic and no paper system. Prior changes have included all-electronic office actions, and of course the USPTO’s EFS-Web system, in which filings are made electronically with the USPTO. One important thing to realize is that a patent may grant very soon after payment of the issue fee, so if the Applicant desires to have a continuation, continuation-in-part (CIP), and/or divisional application filed (all such applications are referred to as “continuing applications”), they should really do so before or at the same time the issue fee is paid, in order to maintain the pendency with the to-be-issued patent.
Recently, ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer), an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot program developed by OpenAI, has become a popular topic, attracting much attention and discussion. Its applications in the fields of natural language processing and text analysis have been well documented and have aroused great interest. It can be used to generate various language models, such as natural language texts, dialogues, and question-answering. It is currently one of the most advanced and efficient technologies in the language field. ChatGPT has a wide range of applications. In fields like medical, financial, legal, and media, ChatGPT can also be used to generate and analyze text data, thereby improving work efficiency and accuracy. Recently, the technology has even been used in the realm of intellectual property, with some having used it to draft patent applications.
Whether or not the law recognizes a machine as the inventor-at-law, the facts are indispensable to determination of the true inventor-in-fact. In the case of Stephen Thaler’s attempt to obtain patent protection for a food container and light stick he says were independently invented by his AI machine, DABUS, the inventor-in-fact will be either Thaler or his machine. The procedural posture of Thaler v. Vidal caused the discourse to jump over the facts of how the food container and the light stick were invented by DABUS. These overlooked facts may reveal the true inventor, regardless of whether or not the type of inventor is recognized by the current law.
I attended the hearing at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) in Maalouf v. Microsoft on Monday February 6, 2023, and the CAFC issued its opinion in the case this past Thursday. This case has curious origins. Through his company Dareltech, Ramzi Khalil Maalouf, a Lebanese immigrant and U.S. citizen, sued Xiaomi, a Chinese multinational corporation, for patent infringement in New York. The case was dismissed without prejudice because Xiaomi was found not to have a physical presence in New York, notwithstanding their proven secret office. Later, Microsoft, naming Xiaomi as the real party in interest, filed an Inter Partes Review (IPR) with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). In other words, a U.S. Big Tech multinational acted on behalf of a China-controlled multinational to invalidate the patents of a small American inventor, thus clearing the way into the U.S. market for the China-controlled multinational.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO’s) announcement early last week that it is requesting public comments on artificial intelligence (AI) and inventorship indicates that changes may eventually be implemented with respect to how the Office considers inventions created, or partially created, by AI machines. The Office is asking for input on 11 questions, including “how does the use of an AI system [in the invention process]…differ from the use of other technical tools”; whether AI inventions may be patentable under current patent laws on joint inventorship; and if statutory or regulatory changes should be made to better address AI contributions to inventions.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced on Tuesday that it is once again extending the deadline for submissions on its “Request for Comments on USPTO Initiatives to Ensure the Robustness and Reliability of Patent Rights.” The Office originally published the Federal Register Notice on October 4, 2022, with a deadline of January 3. That deadline was then extended to February 1 in November, with a note that “this will be the only extension of the comment period.” But on Tuesday, the Office said it will extend the deadline a second time “to ensure that all stakeholders have a sufficient opportunity to submit comments on the questions presented in the October 4, 2022, notice.” The announcement also asserted that “this will be the last extension of the comment period.”
Inventions are secrets, at least until they are divulged to others. It would be lovely if an inventor could simply tell their secret to the world and receive just compensation in exchange. However, human nature tells us that people are reluctant to pay for something they are using unless someone makes them pay for it. When an inventor files a patent application, the secret of their invention is instantly shared with the world via public disclosure. As a result of the speed with which the inventor’s secret is shared with the world, receiving just compensation from users of that secret is particularly difficult.