Imagine coming across a breakthrough idea. An idea that is so scintillating and revolutionary that it can split the world of technology apart. You are quite confident about the success of the venture, and register a patent on the same, and breathe a sigh of relief, thinking your idea is safe and lawfully protected. But what if an artificially intelligent system built by a huge tech giant discovers, or rather tracks down your invention, and creates a blueprint of the same, through which, its engineers develop the same technology, and launch it as their own? Would that count as patent theft or infringement, knowing that there are no prescribed laws as such, with regards to an invention being made by artificially intelligent devices? The debate with regards to the distinction between invention and innovation has been going on for ages, but the AI era has bought with it, its own set of questions and challenges. How would one differentiate between IP theft and IP infringement in the AI era? For instance, in the aforementioned case, the tech giant can successfully take this stance and save itself, because there is no clarity of laws yet, with regards to the said situation. Consequentially, what about the victim’s patent, and the idea which went with it? Would the victim have any legal remedy? Where do the laws of various countries and organizations across the world, stand on the same? Can the victim take the ground of Breach of Privacy by the AI device? And ultimately, who would be liable, the AI device, or the company controlling it?
These are some of the many questions, which still remain unanswered with regards to the Intellectual property of an AI device. We are still just mid-way through the AI era, but it’s enormous social, economic and technological consequences have already started to show up. And we still aren’t really ready to deal with the same. India, as one of the leading and fastest-growing economies, has been a late acceptor of AI technology as such, but we are adapting fast. With globalization at its peak, and more and more companies fighting tooth and nail to gain greater market share, AI seems the way to go. One might simply associate AI with smart assistants and home devices like Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s very own Assistant. But that would be an understatement and undermining the term AI in itself. AI is the future.
We might not observe the same, but AI already is playing a huge role in our lives. One might be a part of Google’s ecosystem or Apple’s ecosystem in that regard, but ultimately, it is AI that is driving the said ecosystems, and machine learning is leading the way. So, when such tech giants talk of innovation and competition in the market, they are usually referring to more and more advanced AI devices, which in turn would bring in more complexities. What complexities? You see, with the advent of such technologies, it is but obvious that there would be a point of time in the future when the said AI devices, including the likes of robots, assistants, smart home appliances, self-driving cars, etc. would be able to emulate the functions of the human brain to a certain extent.
Professor Stephen Hawking in his book, “Brief Answers to Big Questions”, has given the same theory. According to him, if computers continue to obey Moore’s law, doubling their speed and memory capacity every eighteen months, the result would be that computers are likely to overtake humans in intelligence at some point of the time in the next hundred years.[i] So, that would also mean they might be able to figure out sustainable solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems, i.e. through creating algorithms and making subsequently, driving innovation. But all is not so black and white, and there would be problems.
Problems with regards to Robot and AI ethics would take precedence, but the said development would raise significant issues and debates in the IP sector too. Issues like, in case of any invention by an AI device, who would really be recognized as the inventor, the AI device, or the company which is controlling it? Subsequently, in a case where something goes wrong, who would be liable for the monetary losses caused due to the decisions taken by an AI device?
Most importantly, who would be the owner of the information, results, analysis and the requisite data, that may be generated by the AI software? These are some issues, which bring to the forefront, the need for defined statutory provisions with regards to AI innovation and Intellectual Property.