Bonum Certa Men Certa

Artificial Intelligence is Just Software, So EFF Misses the Point/Reason Why USPTO Should Reject Such Patents

It's about Alice, not just public interest

20 Buzzwords you have to know in Artificial Intelligence
Reference: 20 Buzzwords you have to know in Artificial Intelligence



Summary: The recent hype about Artificial Intelligence (AI) -- hype that further dominated the media over the past couple of months -- spurred a response from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which could probably make a stronger argument against software patents that are being labeled "AI"

THE Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP) at the USPTO is noteworthy. Examiners should no longer grant software patents, no matter how patent attorneys attempt to disguise these. In Europe, for example, EPO examiners see all sorts of software patent applications (or categories) with buzzwords like "4IR".

The other day we saw this patent maximalists' site speaking of the subject under "USPTO Releases Revised MPEP". To quote: "The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced via a Patent Alert e-mail last month that the Ninth Edition, Revision 08.2017 of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP) has been released. The new version of the MPEP includes changes to chapters 200, 700-1000, 1200, 1400, 1500, 1800, 2000-2300, 2500, and 2700. According to the Office's Alert, Appendices L and R have been revised to include laws and rules as of August 31, 2017, and Appendices T and AI have been revised to reflect the PCT Articles, Rules, and Administrative Instructions that were in force as of July 1, 2017."

No indication yet of anything related to Alice, which remains in tact and in force under Section 101.

In the meantime, the EFF's Vera Ranieri says that "we should give people limited monopolies in the hopes that overall, we end up with more innovation (whether this is actually true, particularly for software, is debatable)."

It's part of a long post titled "The Federal Circuit Should Not Allow Patents on Inventions that Should Belong to the Public" and it speaks specifically about software patents (among other things). To quote:

One of the most fundamental aspects of patent law is that patents should only be awarded for new inventions. That is, not only does someone have to invent something new to them in order to receive a patent, is must also be a new to the world. If someone independently comes up with an idea, it doesn’t mean that person should get a patent if someone else already came up with the same idea and told the public.

There’s good reason for this: patents are an artificial restraint on trade. They work to increase costs (the patent owner is rewarded with higher prices) and can impede follow-on innovation. Policy makers generally try to justify what would otherwise be considered a monopoly through the argument that without patents, inventors may never have invested in research or might not want to make their inventions public. Thus, the story goes, we should give people limited monopolies in the hopes that overall, we end up with more innovation (whether this is actually true, particularly for software, is debatable).


A few days later IP Watch wrote about the EFF, but only after it had brought up the "Artificial Intelligence" hype once again (an article behind paywall). These were posted in conjunction actually and the latter headline said: "Patenting Artificial Intelligence Might Hamper Progress, EFF Says"

"Patenting Artificial Intelligence" is patenting software because that's what "AI" is; it's software. Such patents are not supposed to be granted anymore, but will examiners understand it? To quote IP Watch:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation launched a project last year to measure progress in artificial intelligence innovations and understand the legal, political, and technical issues potentially raised by those inventions. Some eight months later, the project has tracked rapid progress of those technologies, in particular in machine learning. According to the foundation, patents might be hampering the progress of artificial intelligence, and with the risk of patent trolls claiming rights on patents on machine learning systems.

[...]

“Patents don’t seem to be assisting this cascade of invention in the slightest, and there’s good reason to fear that intellectual property can only hamper the progress of artificial intelligence as a field,” he said.

“We can be sure than in five to ten years, patent trolls will be popping up everywhere, claiming to hold patents on all of the machine learning techniques that are currently being invented in universities and commercial research labs, and generally published openly on arXiv and GitHub,” he added.


While this is true (a lot of the code being Free/libre software), it's baffling to see the EFF framing this as a matter of "hampering the progress of artificial intelligence" etc. Why not just state the obvious? These are algorithms, Alice voids patents on algorithms, and thus all those patents on "AI" should be rejected. It has long been known that patents on algorithms are hampering progress in society, irrespective of whether we call these algorithms "AI" or not.

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