Andrei Iancu, director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), raised the possibility of artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled machines qualifying as independent patent holders, during remarks at the Consumer Electronics Show on Jan. 8.

“Obviously we have dealt with patents in the AI space for a long time,” he said. “What is new now is that some AI machines are claiming to be creating innovation on their own, to some extent independent of human interaction.”

Under current law, only humans can be patent authors and inventors. The director said that policy questions regarding the agency of machines is still being discussed, but a USPTO report to be released in the next few months will address the issue more in depth. USPTO spent the second half of last year soliciting public comments on the matter, per announcements in the Federal Register.

Nonetheless, Iancu said that he doesn’t believe AI-enabled machines are advanced enough to independently invent at this stage, because humans are involved to design the algorithms or calibrate AI to complete a task. Additionally, patents generate incentive to innovate in a way that likely does not matter to machines.

“The truth of the matter is that for most of these things, if not all of them right now, humans are involved,” Iancu clarified. “I do not buy that machines are inventing completely independently right now.”

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.