We always need a technical contribution
Bastian Best is a computer scientist who has worked in the automotive industry and now helps companies file patents for AI applications and other digital innovations in Europe and Germany.2 Dec 2021
Can an artificial intelligence (AI) be an inventor?
Best: You must be referring to the AI Inventor Project. That's been going through the media quite a bit the last few weeks and has brought a lot of attention to the patent industry. It's a group of people who want to make an AI called DABUS an inventor. They have filed patents in their name because only DABUS could develop it, or so the assumption goes. Most patent offices have rejected this and continue to demand a human as inventor. In practice, however, the issue is not that important, because companies always name the human developer as the inventor, who then transfers the rights to the company. I would say we are dealing with a philosophical discussion that underscores that the patent system is not set in stone and must always adapt. That's why I welcome such discussions, but I'm more with the pragmatists and think it remains business as usual.
What can be patented in the field of AI in industry?
Best: In Europe and in Germany, there is basically one basic requirement for a patent to be granted: you have to solve a technical problem with your invention. So there needs to be a twist in the solution. With artificial intelligence, it's going to be exciting, because a lot of things are patentable, but there are some borderline cases.
What are borderline cases?
Best: Let's say they've developed a novel neural network for image classification that involves only half as many convolutions as other networks. The community is enthusiastic and they now want to patent this network. The European Patent Office will not grant a patent for the concept, because the experts assume a basic computational model of abstract mathematical structure. But if they use the network now, for example in a robotics application, i.e. in a technical application, then they can also patent it.
What about models of packaging lines?
You mean they build models of packaging lines for optimization, market them and customers use them in their plants? They can't protect the model itself, but they can protect the use case. Whenever I have a direct link to physics, the patent applicant is on the safe side.
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