Demystifying the Inventorship Rights of an AI System in India

In this age of technological advancement, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has taken a giant leap from undertaking more straightforward tasks to originating marvellous inventions. Can an AI system be considered an inventor? This question has been beguiling jurisprudence across the globe for a considerable time. However, through the recent decision of Thaler v. Commissioner of Patents, the Australian Federal Court has forced jurisdictions across the world to re-think the inventive capacity and the role of AI in the contemporary ecosystem of innovation.

Through this article, we have tried to determine the implications of the Thaler decision and examine the position of the Indian legislation on the inventorship rights of an AI.

Factual Matrix

Dr. Stephen Thaler designed the Device for Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience (DABUS). DABUS is an artificial intelligence system that pioneered the creation of an optimised beverage container and a flashing light for use in emergency circumstances. In the persistence of such a creation, Dr. Thaler filled patent applications worldwide, including in Australia, Canada, China, Europe, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

“The Deputy Commissioner” rejected Dr. Thaler’s patent application in Australia, which named DABUS as the inventor. The matter was contested and finally, the Federal Court of Australia determined that the AI could be recognised as an inventor under the Australian Patent Act. According to the Court, the patent would be owned by Dr. Thaler, the developer, owner, and controller of DABUS. The Court determined that the legislative intent was to encourage innovation and that nothing in the Patent Act expressly or implicitly forbids AI from being named as an inventor.

Indian Stance: Inventorship Rights of an AI

In India, recently, the Controller General of Patents recorded objections to recognising an AI as an inventor in the matter of patent application numbered 202017019068, citing the provisions under Section 2 and Section 6 of the Patents Act 1970 (“Act”). The term “inventor” has not been defined under the Act. However, Section 6 states that, among other things, a patent application can be filed by any person claiming to be the true and first inventor of an invention.[1]

A bare reading of the provisions indicates that a natural person is distinguished from others. One can also observe that anyone other than a natural person will be unable to claim inventorship. Consequently, a natural person who is true and first to invent, and who contributes his originality, skill, or technical knowledge to the innovation meets the criteria to be acknowledged as an inventor in India.

In the case of V.B. Mohammed Ibrahim v. Alfred Schafranek, AIR 1960 Mysore 173, it was held that a financing partner cannot be an inventor, nor can a corporation be the sole applicant that claims to be an inventor. The Court, through this decision, emphasised that only a natural person (who is neither a financing partner nor a corporation) who genuinely contributes their skill or technical knowledge towards the invention shall qualify to claim inventorship under the Act.

In the light of this judgement, it can be perceived that an AI can also contribute its skill or technical knowledge to an invention and become an inventor. However, a reference to Som Prakash Rekhi vs Union of India & Anr, AIR 1981 SC 212, clarifies the qualification of a legal ‘person’ under Indian law. The Supreme Court observed that ‘personality’ is the sole attribution of a legal person. Such a ‘personality’ is an entity that has the right to sue or can be sued by another entity. An AI is not capable of using such rights, nor can it perform the required duties of any juristic personality independently. For instance, it cannot enter into an agreement or transfer or acquire patent/patent application rights. It would also be impossible for an AI to oppose or revoke a patent application. Hence, an AI falls short of the standards for being deemed an inventor in India.

Furthermore, the legislative intent behind the Indian Patent Act as found in the Ayyangar Committee report of 1959[2] suggests that inventors are mentioned in a patent application as a matter of right. Whether or not the actual deviser has a proprietary claim on the innovation, he has a moral right to be acknowledged as the inventor. This confers reputation and boosts the economic worth of the inventor. The inventor may give up his ownership interest in a particular patent due to a contract/agreement in law, but he retains his moral right.

An examination of legislative purpose and current public policy reveals a desire to protect the rights of the inventor/natural person who creates IP and can use his moral rights. On the other hand, AI cannot be granted moral rights nor appear to enjoy the benefits intended by legislation or public policy. Given this, designating AI as an inventor/co-inventor under current Indian rules seems impossible until explicit revisions are made.

Role of AI and Economic Growth in India

The Parliamentary Standing Committee “(“Committee“”) constituted under the Dept. of Commerce, analysed the current landscape of the IPR regime in India and observed its contribution to promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in the country in its report titled “Report 161: Review of the Intellectual Property Rights Regime in India” presented in the Rajya Sabha on  July 23rd, 2021. In particular, it examined the challenges that exist in the current legislative structure including the inventorship rights of an AI.

The Committee acknowledged the relevance and utility of AI-based cutting edge technology and machine learning, particularly in current times, significantly affected by the pandemic, in which digital technology proved to be instrumental in responding to the global crisis. Further, the Committee placed reliance on a report released by Accenture titled “How AI Boosts Industry Profits and Innovation” which estimated AI to inject US $ 957 Billion into the Indian Economy by 2035, if used optimally, to understand further the impact and role of AI and technology in the contemporary landscape and its relationship with Intellectual Property. 

Therefore, the Committee recommended a review of the relevant provisions of the Indian Patents Act, 1970 [Section 3(k)] and the Copyrights Act, 1957 on a priority basis to afford inventorship rights to AI in India. The Report also stated that “The Committee recommends the Department that the approach in linking the mathematical methods or algorithms to a tangible technical device or a practical application should be adopted in India for facilitating their patents as being done in the EU and U.S. Hence, the conversion of mathematical methods and algorithms to a process in this way would make it easier to protect them as patents“. Thereby including algorithms and mathematical processes under the ambit of patent law.

The Committee concluded that the legislative framework amendments would protect the works of an AI (either autonomously or with assistance/inputs from a human), incentivize pioneering inventions and R&D in the country, and maintain an enabling ecosystem for the protection of human intelligence innovations. The Committee maintained that the embargo placed on the inventorship rights of an AI would dissuade significant investments in the sector since such AI induced innovations would not be protected in the country.

Conclusion:  A Way Forward for Inventorship Rights of an AI System 

The decision would have a favourable impact on the holder of an AI. However, commentators have expressed concerns regarding the difficulties that may arise due to the extending of patent protection to AI-generated concepts, such as:

  • Impact on the Copyright law: A result of such a decision may lead the courts to re-examine the subject of AI authorship and regard AI as a creator of AI-generated works, which will open a Pandora’s box of judicial conflicts.[3]
  • It could potentially raise the bar for innovation or fundamentally alter the definition of a ‘person skilled in the art,’ making it more difficult for human innovators to obtain patent protection.
  • Accepting inventorship to include AI systems would elevate AI to the status of a legal person, allowing it to hold and exercise property rights.
  • It raises concerns about who has the right to use or own the AI-created product. As the AI system is not a legal body, it cannot enter into agreements allowing it to transfer its inventorship rights.

The ability of an AI to be an inventor under patent law will be determined by the specific language in each jurisdiction’s patent laws. To explicitly incorporate and recognise AI-generated ideas, legislative changes and amendments may be required in nations where plain statutory wording needs an inventor to be a natural person. In places where the statutory language is less explicit, such as Australia, the courts may have additional freedom to consider purposeful statutory interpretation and policy considerations.[4] We anticipate that all IP offices adopt a unified approach to successfully address the emerging difficulties posed by inventions by AI.

References: 

[1] Section 6, the Patents Act, 1970.

[2] Shri Justice N. Rajagopala Ayyangar, Report on the revision of the patents law, 1989.

[3] Rita Matulionyte, Australian court says that AI can be an inventor: what does it mean for authors? Kluwer Copyright Blog (September 2021).

[4] Lam Rui Rong, Can Artificial Intelligence Be an Inventor Under Patent Law? Australian Federal Court Says ‘Yes’ but U.S. District Judge Says ‘No’, SKRINE (September 2021).

Image Credits: Photo by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

The ability of an AI to be an inventor under patent law will be determined by the specific language in each jurisdiction’s patent laws. To explicitly incorporate and recognise AI-generated ideas, legislative changes and amendments may be required in nations where plain statutory wording needs an inventor to be a natural person. In places where the statutory language is less explicit, such as Australia, the courts may have additional freedom to consider purposeful statutory interpretation and policy considerations.

POST A COMMENT

There is a Tide in the Affairs of Men…and Nations too

Three decades ago, the mobile revolution helped India overcome its communication challenges. Today, mobile phones have become a commodity in India. At least feature phones have, even if smartphones haven’t. But if you are old enough to remember India during the mid-1990s, you will know that India’s fixed line telephone density was very low at that time. Getting new telephone connections was tough, and involved waiting periods that often extended to several months. Due to ageing cables, making telephone calls was a challenge, and even when calls were connected, the quality was poor.  

Mobile communication technologies unleashed a powerful revolution that changed all this. Even far-off locations where laying fixed-line cables was a challenge got access to mobile towers and signals. So huge has been the transformative power of mobile technologies that an entire generation of regulatory reforms, business models and lifestyle paradigms all depend on the ubiquitous mobile phone.

Why is this relevant now?

Today, the world is on the threshold of a new breed of technologies such as AI/ML, Robotics, IIoT, Blockchain, Cloud, Analytics, Drones, Autonomous Vehicles, the Metaverse etc. Collectively and individually, these technologies have the potential to transform the world as we know it to a much greater degree. Indeed, the next decade may witness the greatest changes driven by technology in the recorded history of humankind.

The reason why it is important to be cognizant of this and take timely action. There are no established leaders in these areas because the sectors, their impact and tech are still evolving. India as a country has the technical and commercial savvy to harness these new technologies and drive innovations. What is needed is the educational and industrial framework to ensure that students get to acquire and sharpen their expertise in these new areas and start applying them to solving real-world problems. The National Education Policy is one step in this direction, but implementing it in the right way is key. Not just the curriculum, but the whole system of education must change. Internships must become more focused and integrated with the learning process, and not just a certificate-driven activity as it largely has been (and is).

It’s not just the central government that needs to act with alacrity and vision; state governments also need to formulate the right policies and rules to ensure that the country as a whole is able to take advantage of the massive disruption that is occurring all around us. Some states have woken up to this need and are putting in place plans to encourage entrepreneurs and attract investments into key sectors. The initial agreement to set up a chip-making facility in Karnataka is one example- but it’s early days yet, and many more hurdles need to be overcome.

The startup ecosystem, too, needs to readjust its approach to backing ventures in these new areas. Yes, the risk will be higher and the failure rate may be higher, but these ventures must be seen as proving grounds for technologies and ideas. Our private sector must also be ready to make the necessary investments to embrace these new technologies and lead innovation and adoption. Our large IT services industry must accelerate the shift to provide offerings built around these new areas. A lot is already happening, but the pace must pick up. India’s public sector, long regarded as a white elephant, can also play a key role by absorbing these technologies and innovatively deploying them in sectors of national importance, such as energy, agriculture, disaster recovery, infrastructure development, defence etc.

Achieving all this requires macroeconomic stability: inflation under control, relatively stable exchange rates and an adequate money supply. For a number of reasons that are outside the control of our government or individual companies, these conditions may not be met immediately. But as responsible citizens, business leaders, regulators, teachers and parents, each one of us has a role to play. Of course, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary also have their own roles to play.

To quote Brutus from Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar”,

“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures”.

This is very much the situation that much of the world finds itself in at this time. If we in India can rise to the occasion, our continued ascendancy as a power is assured. But there is many a slip between the cup and the lip, and if we squander time and energy on needless and irrelevant issues, it is just as certain that we will not realise our potential. Let us make the right choice.

Image Credits: Photo by Pete Linforth from Pixabay 

Today, the world is on the threshold of a new breed of technologies such as AI/ML, Robotics, IIoT, Blockchain, Cloud, Analytics, Drones and Autonomous Vehicles, the Metaverse etc. Collectively and individually, these technologies have the potential to transform the world as we know it to a much greater degree. Indeed, the next decade may witness the greatest changes driven by technologies in the recorded history of humankind. The reason why it is important to be cognizant of this and take timely action. There are no established leaders in these areas because the sectors, their impact and tech are still evolving.

POST A COMMENT

Core Legal Issues with Artificial Intelligence in India

The adoption and penetration of Artificial Intelligence in our lives today does not necessitate any more enunciation or illustration. While the technology is still considered to be in its infancy by many, so profound has been its presence that we do not comprehend our reliance on it unless it is specifically pointed out. From Siri, Alexa to Amazon and Netflix, there is hardly any sector that has remained untouched by Artificial Intelligence.

Thus, the adoption of artificial intelligence is not the challenge but its ‘regulation’ is a slippery slope. Which leads us to questions such as whether we need to regulate artificial intelligence at all? If yes, do we need a separate regulatory framework or are the existing laws enough to regulate artificial intelligence technology?

Artificial intelligence goes beyond normal computer programs and technological functions by incorporating the intrinsic human ability to apply knowledge and skills and learning as well as improving with time. This makes them human-like. Since humans have rights and obligations, shouldn’t human-likes have them too?

But at this point in time, there have been no regulations or adjudications by the Courts acknowledging the legal status of artificial intelligence. Defining the legal status of AI machines would be the first cogent step in the framing of laws governing artificial intelligence and might even help with the application of existing laws.

A pertinent step in the direction of having a structured framework was taken by the Ministry of Industry and commerce when they set up an 18 member task force in 2017 to highlight and address the concerns and challenges in the adoption of artificial intelligence and facilitate the growth of such technology in India. The Task Force came up with a report in March 2018[1] in which they provided recommendations for the steps to be taken in the formulation of a policy.

The Report identified ten sectors which have the greatest potential to benefit from the adoption of artificial intelligence and also cater to the development of artificial intelligence-based technologies. The report also highlighted the major challenges which the implementation of artificial intelligence might face when done on large scale, namely (i) Encouraging data collection, archiving and availability with adequate safeguards, possibly via data marketplaces/exchanges; (ii) Ensuring data security, protection, privacy and ethical via regulatory and technological frameworks; (iii) Digitization of systems and processes with IoT systems whilst providing adequate protection from cyber-attacks; and (iv) Deployment of autonomous products and mitigation of impact on employment and safety.[2]

The Task Force also suggested setting up of an “Inter–Ministerial National Artificial Intelligence Mission”, for a period of 5 years, with funding of around INR 1200 Crores, to act as a nodal agency to coordinate all AI-related activities in India.

 

Core Legal Issues

When we look at the adoption of artificial intelligence from a legal and regulatory point of view, the main issue we need to consider is, are the existing laws sufficient to address the legal issues which might arise or do we need a new set of laws to regulate the artificial intelligence technologies. Whilst certain aspects like intellectual property rights and use of data to develop artificial intelligence might be covered under the existing laws, there are some legal issues which might need a new set of regulation to overlook the artificial intelligence technology.

 

  • Liability of Artificial Intelligence

 

The current legal regime does not have a framework where a robot or an artificial intelligence program might be held liable or accountable in case a third party suffers any damage due to any act or omission by the program. For instance, let us consider a situation where a self-driven car controlled via an artificial intelligence program gets into an accident. How will the liability be apportioned in such a scenario?

The more complex the artificial intelligence program, the harder it will be to apply simple rules of liability on them. The issue of apportionment of liability will also arise when the cause of harm cannot be traced back to any human element, or where any act or omission by the artificial intelligence technology which has caused damage could have been avoided by human intervention.

One more instance where the current legal regime may not be able to help is where the artificial intelligence enters into a contractual obligation after negotiating the terms and conditions of the contract and subsequently there is a breach of contract.

In the judicial pronouncement of United States v Athlone Indus Inc[3] it was held by the court that since robots and artificial intelligence programs are not natural or legal persons, they cannot be held liable even if any devastating damage may be caused. This traditional rule may need reconsideration with the adoption of highly intelligent technology.

The pertinent legal question here is what kind of rules, regulations and laws will govern these situations and who is to decide it, where the fact is that artificial intelligence entities are not considered to be subject of law.[4]

 

  • Personhood of Artificial Intelligence Entities

 

From a legal point of view, personhood of an entity is an extremely important factor to assign rights and obligations. Personhood can either be natural or legal. Attribution of personhood is important from the point of view that it would help identify as to who would ultimately be bearing the consequences of an act or omission.

Artificial intelligence entities, to have any rights or obligations should be assigned personhood to avoid any legal loopholes. “Electronic personhood”[5] could be attributed to such entities in situations where they interact independently with third parties and take autonomous decisions.

 

  • Protection of Privacy and Data

For the development of better artificial intelligence technologies, the free flow of data is crucial as it is the main fuel on which these technologies run. Thus, artificial intelligence technologies must be developed in such a way that they comply with the existing laws of privacy, confidentiality, anonymity and other data protection framework in place. There must be regulations which ensure that there is no misuse of personal data or security breach. There should be mechanisms that enable users to stop processing their personal data and to invoke the right to be forgotten. It further remains to be seen whether the current data protection/security obligations should be imposed on AI and other similar automated decision-making entities to preserve individual’s right to privacy which was declared as a fundamental right by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in KS Puttaswamy & Anr. v Union of India and Ors[6]. This also calls for an all-inclusive data privacy regime which would apply to both private and public sector and would govern the protection of data, including data used in developing artificial intelligence. Similarly, surveillance laws also would need a revisiting for circumstances which include the use of fingerprints or facial recognition through artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies.

At this point in time there are a lot of loose ends to be tied up like the rights and responsibilities of the person who controls the data for developing artificial intelligence or the rights of the data subjects whose data is being used to develop such technologies. The double-edged sword situation between development of artificial intelligence and the access of data for further additional purposes also needs to be deliberated upon.

Concluding Remarks

In this evolving world of technology with the capabilities of autonomous decision making, it is inevitable that the implementation of such technology will have legal implications. There is a need for a legal definition of artificial intelligence entities in judicial terms to ensure regulatory transparency. While addressing the legal issues, it is important that there is a balance between the protection of rights of individuals and the need to ensure consistent technological growth. Proper regulations would also ensure that broad ethical standards are adhered to. The established legal principles would not only help in the development of the sector but will also ensure that there are proper safeguards in place.

In this evolving world of technology with the capabilities of autonomous decision making, it is inevitable that the implementation of such technology will have legal implications. There is a need for a legal definition of artificial intelligence entities in judicial terms to ensure regulatory transparency. While addressing the legal issues, it is important that there is a balance between the protection of rights of individuals and the need to ensure consistent technological growth.

POST A COMMENT