The US Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) published a Request for Comments Regarding Artificial Intelligence and Inventorship seeking input from stakeholders on inventorship issues that may arise as artificial intelligence (AI) and emerging technologies play a greater role in the innovation process. The deadline to submit comments is May 15, 2023.
As background, the PTO held its inaugural AI and Emerging Technologies Partnership meeting, during which panelists discussed AI’s increasing role in innovation, in June 2022. Although there appeared to be consensus that AI cannot “conceive” of inventions, some panelists contended that AI is merely a tool like any other tool used in the inventive process, while others pointed to situations in which AI systems can output patentable inventions or contribute at the level of a joint inventor. While the PTO has been exploring the contours of inventorship law with respect to AI-generated inventions, in August 2022, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued its decision in Thaler v. Vidal, finding that inventorship is limited to natural persons. The Court explained, however, that it was not confronted with “the question of whether inventions made by human beings with the assistance of AI are eligible for patent protection.”
Recognizing the uncertainty surrounding the role of AI inventorship in the wake of the Thaler decision, the PTO seeks public comment on several questions, including the following:
1. How is AI, including machine learning, currently being used in the invention creation process?
2. How does the use of an AI system in the invention creation process differ from the use of other technical tools?
3. If an AI system contributes to an invention at the same level as a human who would be considered a joint inventor, is the invention patentable under current patent laws?
4. Do inventions in which an AI system contributed at the same level as a joint inventor raise any significant ownership issues?
5. Is there a need for the PTO to expand its current guidance on inventorship to address situations in which AI significantly contributes to an invention? How should the significance of a contribution be assessed?
6. Should the PTO require applicants to provide an explanation of contributions AI systems made to inventions claimed in patent applications? If so, how should that be implemented, and what level of contributions should be disclosed? Should contributions to inventions made by AI systems be treated differently from contributions made by other (e., non-AI) computer systems?
7. What additional steps, if any, should the PTO take to further incentivize AI-enabled innovation (e.g., innovation in which machine learning or other computational techniques play a significant role in the invention creation process)?
8. What statutory changes, if any, should be considered as to US inventorship law, and what consequences do you foresee for those statutory changes?