Engineers face computer inventor rivalry


Research calls for non-humans to be credited for inventions to encourage the development of creative computers and more ideas

Computers should be named on patents as inventors, and will eventually become competitive with engineers, researchers from the University of Surrey have suggested.

The research, published last month in the Boston College Law Review, calls for non-humans to be credited for inventions to encourage the development of creative computers and more ideas.

Ryan Abbott, professor of law and health sciences at the University of Surrey, who was previously a patent attorney in life sciences and biopharmaceuticals, said computers had been inventing patentable ideas “under the radar” since the 1990s, but that people had been reluctant to admit this because it is seen as weakening intellectual property (IP) rights.

He said: “In just one example, an artificial intelligence system named The Creativity Ma-chine invented the first cross-bristled toothbrush design for Oral-B. A computer invented a satellite antenna used by Nasa, and they are very involved in genetic programming. Soon computers such as IBM’s Watson and Google’s Deep Mind will be routinely inventing.

“Computers won’t replace engineers in the immediate future, but they will be competitive with engineers and will replace some information workers.”

Abbott added that the pace of development in automation and artificial intelligence meant that the required changes to IP law needed to happen now and that the thinking on who owned a patent could become difficult, because of engineers using software tools such as CAD packages with algorithms that iterate designs. It could be argued that the computer, the computer’s user and the developer of the software could all claim ownership.

“I propose that the owner of the computer should be the owner of the patent,” he said. “It’s consistent with laws around personal possessions, and it will encourage people to share creative computing resources.”



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