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UK government launches consultation on AI in patents and copyright

Evidence and views will be sought by UK government on how inventions and creative work made by AI should be protected

The UK government has launched a consultation to discuss the repercussions of artificial intelligence (AI) in the copyright and patent system.

Led by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), the consultation launched on 29 October is part of the government’s commitments in its Innovation Strategy published in July 2021, and is part of efforts to strengthen the UK’s intellectual property (IP) environment.

Evidence and views will be sought on the extent to which patents and copyright should protect inventions and creative works made by AI, and how this could affect copyright and patents legislation. The consultation will last for 10 weeks, ending on 7 January 2022.

According to the ICO, the government wants to discuss potential measures to make it easier to use copyrighted material in AI development, “while preserving the role of IP in promoting human creativity and innovation”.

“As one of the most digitally advanced economies, we want to create the best environment for artificial intelligence companies and innovators by ensuring our copyright and patent system is a catalyst for them to thrive, making the UK the natural home for ground-breaking research and development,” said science minister George Freeman.

“Our intellectual property regime is one of the most highly regarded in the world. This consultation will help ensure we keep pace with global change, matching our shared ambitions to make the UK an innovation nation,” he added.

The current exercise aims to address issues raised in a previous consultation launched in March 2021, which discussed the interaction of AI and IP and the impact of artificial intelligence in intellectual property. The goal this time around is to identify options for possible changes to patent and copyright law which may address these issues.

At the time, problems identified included the balance in the copyright system between the protection of human works and AI works, and the use of copyright material in machine learning. The previous consultation also found issues in relation to patents, which could stifle innovation as the use of AI systems increases.  

According to ICO chief executive Tim Moss, an “accessible, efficient and balanced” intellectual property system is crucial to unleashing innovation potential.

“The technology that human innovation has created has evolved,” said Moss. “That technology can now act in the innovation process, and it is already clear that the role of AI will become increasingly prominent across different industries and wider society.”

AI Council chair Tabitha Goldstaub welcomed the launch of the consultation on copyright and patents legislation. “Thinking about the challenges AI poses to IP and ensuring people are rewarded appropriately for their inventiveness and creativity is vital for innovation to flourish,” she said.

According to research launched by the government to complement the Innovation Strategy, the factors driving innovation across the four pillars, the paper noted that on unleashing business – the pillar that encompasses aspects such as intellectual property – the UK’s performance in adoption of ideas and technologies is weaker in comparison to leading countries.

Current and future economic growth depends on the UK’s ability to adopt innovations, the report noted, given that technology diffusion explains 44% of the difference between GDP per capital across countries.

Among the recommendations set out in the report, modifications to regulatory frameworks was highlighted as something that “could have significant influence on how innovation occurs in a country, and the relationship varies by sector, time scale or market”.

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