Protecting Artificial Intelligence Inventions: The Conundrum of Software Being Patent Eligible Subject Matter


The artificial intelligence market is estimated to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 53.65% till 2020, with the healthcare sector being at the forefront of the disruption [1]. Organizations, big and small, are investing huge sums into machine learning and artificial intelligence research and development. But how do you protect what you innovate and make sure you recoup and make profits on the investments made? That’s where intellectual property, and especially patents, come into the play. Patents let inventors protect new technological products and processes.

Patenting inventions in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence brings us to the broader issue of software patents. Patenting software related inventions has been at the center of the patent-eligible subject matter debate for a long time now. While getting a grant of a software patent in India has always been a tricky affair, the United States, traditionally, has been a pro-software patent jurisdiction with the European Patent Office being somewhere in the middle of the two. But the equation changed to a large extent after the US Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Alice v. CLS Bank. The decision was construed as an anti-software patent one and a slew of existing software patents were being invalidated based on the decision. The question of patent-eligibility of software related inventions were being asked at each and every forum and the conclusion reached by many experts was that the decision was having an adverse effect in protecting inventions in the software sector, as the focus of innovation of innumerable organizations and researchers now lies in the fields of big data analytics, cloud computing services, machine learning, etc. and software art needs to be patent eligible subject matter. Recent decisions have clarified the stance on the issue in a significantly better way and cases like Enfish v. Microsoft and McRO v. Bandai Namco Games America have categorically stated that software claims are patent eligible subject matter.

At SigTuple, while building cutting edge products at the forefront of software engineering involving image processing and artificial intelligence, we know how important it is to be able to protect our inventions and technological breakthroughs. Healthcare solutions based on artificial intelligence is becoming a fiercely competitive sector and the capability of protecting one’s own inventions through patents gives a competitive edge like no other. As the focus of innovation keeps turning more and more towards software solutions and as artificial intelligence based products become more prominent in our daily lives, the very basis of software patents cannot and should not be on a shaky ground anymore.

While we are moving rapidly towards a future where artificial intelligence will play a hugely significant part, we need to ensure that innovations in the field are properly and adequately protected. Though it is true that granting frivolous patents empowers patent trolls and costs companies millions to fight lawsuits instituted by those trolls, at the same time, an anti-software patent approach is equally bad in terms of not being able to protect true technological breakthroughs and inventions in areas which are likely to shape the future of our species.

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