Artificial Intelligence Won’t Achieve Legal Inventorship Status Anytime Soon

Imagine a deposition in which an inventor is questioned about her conception and reduction to practice of an invention directed to a chemical product worth billions of dollars to her company. Testimony reveals how artificial intelligence software, assessing huge amounts of data, identified the patented compound and the compound’s new uses in helping combat disease. The inventor states that she simply performed tests confirming the compound’s qualities and its utility, which the software had already determined. The attorney taking the deposition moves to invalidate the patent on the basis that the patent does not identify the true inventor. The true inventor, the attorney argues, was the company’s AI software.

Seem farfetched? Maybe not in today’s AI world. AI tools can spot cancer and other problems in diagnostic images, as well as identify patient-specific treatments. AI software can identify workable drug combinations for effectively combating pests. AI can predict biological events emerging in hotspots on the other side of the world, even before they’re reported by local media and officials. And lawyers are becoming more aware of AI through use of machine learning tools to predict the relevance of case law, answer queries about how a judge might respond to a particular set of facts, and assess the strength of contracts, among other tools. So while the above deposition scenario is hypothetical, it seems far from unrealistic.

One thing is for sure, however; an AI program will not be named as an inventor or joint inventor on a patent any time soon. At least not until Congress amends US patent laws to broaden the definition of “inventor” and the Supreme Court clarifies what “conception” of an invention means in a world filled with artificially-intelligent technologies.

That’s because US patent laws are intended to protect the natural intellectual output of humans, not the artificial intelligence of algorithms. Indeed, Congress left little wiggle room when it defined “inventor” to mean an “individual,” or in the case of a joint invention, the “individuals” collectively who invent or discover the subject matter of an invention. And the Supreme Court has endorsed a human-centric notion of inventorship. This has led courts overseeing patent disputes to repeatedly remind us that “conception” is the touchstone of inventorship, where conception is defined as the “formation in the mind of the inventor, of a definite and permanent idea of the complete and operative invention, as it is hereafter to be applied in practice.”

But consider this. What if “in the mind of” were struck from the definition of “conception” and inventorship? Under that revised definition, an AI system might indeed be viewed as conceiving an invention.

By way of example, let’s say the same AI software and the researcher from the above deposition scenario were participants behind the partition in a classic Turing Test. Would an interrogator be able to distinguish the AI inventor from the natural intelligence inventor if the test for conception of the chemical compound invention is reduced to examining whether the chemical compound idea was “definite” (not vague), “permanent” (fixed), “complete,” “operative” (it works as conceived), and has a practical application (real world utility)? If you were the interrogator in this Turing Test, would you choose the AI software or the researcher who did the follow-up confirmatory testing?

Those who follow patent law may see the irony of legally recognizing AI software as an “inventor” if it “conceives” an invention, when the very same software would likely face an uphill battle being patented by its developers because of the apparent “abstract” nature of many software algorithms.

In any case, for now the question of whether inventorship and inventions should be assessed based on their natural or artificial origin may merely be an academic one. But that may need to change when artificial intelligence development produces artificial general intelligence (AGI) that is capable of performing the same intellectual tasks that a human can.

Marketing “Artificial Intelligence” Needs Careful Planning to Avoid Trademark Troubles

As the market for all things artificial intelligence continues heating up, companies are looking for ways to align their products, services, and entire brands with “artificial intelligence” designations and phrases common in the surging artificial intelligence industry, including variants such as “AI,” “deep,” “neural,” and others. Reminiscent of the dot.com era of the early 2000’s, when companies rushed to market with “i-” or “e-” prefixes or appended “.com” names, today’s artificial intelligence startups are finding traction with artificial intelligence-related terms and corresponding “.AI” domains. The proliferation of AI marketing, however, may lead to brand and domain disputes. But a carefully-planned intellectual property strategy may help avoid potential risks down the road, as the recent case Stella.ai, Inc. v. Stellar A.I, Inc., filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, demonstrates.

Artificial Intelligence startups face plenty of challenges getting their businesses up and going. The last things they want to worry about is unexpected trademark litigation involving their “AI” brand and domain names. Fortunately, some practical steps taken early may help reduce the risk of such problems.

According to court filings, New York City-based Stella.AI, Inc., provider of a jobs matching website, claims that its “stella.AI” website domain has been in use since March 2016, and its STELLA trademark since February 2016 (its U.S. federal trademark applications was reportedly published for opposition in April 2016 by the US Patent and Trademark Office). Palo Alto-based talent and employment agency Stellar A.I., formerly JobGenie, obtained its “stellar.ai” domain and sought trademark status for STELLAR.AI in January 2017, a move, Stella.ai claims, was prompted after JobGenie learned of Stella.AI, Inc.’s domain. Stella.AI’s complaint alleges unfair competition and false designation of origin due to a confusingly-similar mark and domain name. It sought monetary damages and the transfer of the stellar.ai domain.

In its answer to the complaint, Stellar A.I. says that it created, used, and marketed its services under the STELLAR.AI mark in good faith without prior knowledge of Stella.AI, Inc.’s mark, and in any case, any infringement of the STELLA mark was unintentional.

Artificial Intelligence startups face plenty of challenges getting their businesses up and going. The last things they want to worry about is unexpected trademark litigation involving their “AI” brand and domain names. Fortunately, some practical steps taken early may help reduce the risk of such problems.

As a start, marketers should consider thoroughly searching for conflicting federal, state, and common law uses of a planned company, product, or service name, and they should also consider evaluating corresponding domains as part of an early branding strategy. Trademark searches often reveal other, potentially confusingly-similar, uses of a trademark. Plenty of search firms offer search services, and they will return a list of trademarks that might present problems. If you want to conduct your own search, a good place to start might be the US Patent and Trademark Office’s TESS database, which can be searched to identify federal trademark registrations and pending trademark applications. Evaluating the search results should be done with the assistance of the company’s intellectual property attorney.

It is also good practice to look beyond obtaining a single top-level domain for a company and its brands. For example, if “xyzco.ai” is in play as a possible company “AI” domain name, also consider “xyzco.com” and others top-level domains to prevent someone else from getting their hands on your name. Moreover, consider obtaining domains embodying possible shortcuts and misspellings that prospective customers might use (i.e., “xzyco.ai” transposes two letters).

Marketers would be wise to also exercise caution when using competitor’s marks on their company website, although making legitimate comparisons between competing products remains fair use even when the competing products are identified using their trademarks. In such situation, comparisons should clearly state that the marketer’s product is not affiliated with its competitor’s product, and website links to competitor’s products should be avoided.

While startups often focus limited resources on protecting their technology by filing patent applications (or by implementing a comprehensive trade secret policy), a startup’s intellectual property strategy should also consider trademark issues to avoid having to re-brand down the road, as Stellar A.I. did (their new name and domain are now “Stellares” and “stellares.ai,” respectively).