The UKIPO has issued an open consultation including a call for views in relation to artificial intelligence and intellectual property. The consultation includes a number of questions in various fields of intellectual property (IP) including patents, designs, trademarks and copyright, inviting respondents to contribute their opinions on the present and future legal framework of how these rights interact with developments in the field of AI. The questions in the consultation focus on ownership of IP developed by AI as well as the potential infringement of IP by AI processes. The deadline for providing views is 30 November 2020.
Recent developments in the field of AI have brought into question whether the current legal structures surrounding IP remain appropriate, particularly when considering ownership of IP rights. The ownership of IP initially lies with the inventor or designer, which may then be transferred to a company through, for example, a contract of employment. However, the legal framework in the UK and Europe requires that an inventor (or creator) of IP is a "natural person" (a human being) and the present standard is that AI systems or machines do not meet this requirement. A secondary problem is that machines are not considered legally capable of "owning" any property and therefore cannot acquire property rights (such as IP rights) that could be transferred to others. Although attempts have been made to overcome this and have an AI system named as the inventor and therefore initial owner of IP, these attempts have so far not been successful. It should further be noted that the issue of the potential "legal personality" of an AI system or machine has scope wider than the field of IP and it seems unlikely that IP law alone could progress in this area without more general legal developments. However, as AI and machine learning technology continues to develop, some have questioned whether these consequences in the IP field are appropriate given recent developments such as art or music created by trained algorithms or the potential that in the future an AI system might produce new inventions.
The issuance of this consultation indicates that the UKIPO is taking note of these issues. This action also follows similar consultations issued by both the USPTO in August 2019 and WIPO in December 2019, showing that a worldwide interest is being taken in the possible effects of these developments. Anyone with interests in IP and/or AI technology is encouraged to contribute to influence any future developments in the legal framework in this area in the UK.
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