Computers should be able to hold patents

The rapid increase in creative computing is posing new challenges when it comes to patenting an invention. Artificial intelligence is playing an ever larger role in innovation -- with major players such as IBM, Pfizer and Google investing heavily in the field.

Could a computer get a patent, or is it just a data collector without creative vision? The same argument has long swirled around biologist Rosalind Franklin, who had the 3D data for 9 months and wouldn't fit a helix to it and even insisted the data was anti-helical. She ended up being left off the Nobel prize for the DNA helix, a controversy ever since.

"Soon computers will be routinely inventing, and it may only be a matter of time until computers are responsible for most innovation," says Ryan Abbott, Professor of Law and Health Sciences at the University. "To optimize innovation - and the positive impact this will have on our economies - it is critical that we extend the laws around inventorship to include computers."

Without a change in the law, Abbott warns in Boston College Law Review that there will be less innovation, caused by uncertainty, which would prevent industry from capitalizing on the huge potential of creative computers. We are also likely to see disputes over inventorship, with individuals taking credit for inventions that are not genuinely theirs. Naming computers as inventors on patents would incentivize the creation of intellectual property by encouraging the development of creative computers. By assigning ownership of a computer's invention to a computer's owner, he argues, it would be possible to reward inventive activity which happens before the invention itself.

"While some patent prosecutors say the ability of machines to create patentable inventions on their own is well off in the future, artificial intelligence has actually been generating inventive ideas for decades. In just one example, an artificial intelligence system named 'The Creativity Machine' invented the first cross-bristled toothbrush design.

Can computers replace the 'skilled person' conventionally used to judge a patent's inventiveness, since a computer would have an unlimited knowledge of the particular field in question? Let us know in a comment.