Remarks by Director Iancu at the Artificial Intelligence: Intellectual Property Considerations event

Remarks delivered at Artificial Intelligence: Intellectual Property Considerations

Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Andrei Iancu

January 31, 2019

Alexandria, Virginia

As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Elizabeth (Dougherty) for that introduction. Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)! It’s great to have all of you here, both in person and watching via Livestream, and we’re delighted to be your hosts for this inaugural USPTO event. On that note, I'd like to thank the USPTO’s Office of Policy and International Affairs for planning, coordinating and organizing this unique conference.

Today, we’ve gathered leading thinkers, policy makers, academics, and practitioners to discuss the growing capabilities and economic impacts of artificial intelligence (AI), and the implications for intellectual property (IP) policy and law.

As Elizabeth mentioned in her introduction, I have the honor of leading the USPTO, where nearly 13,000 employees—including some 9,000 patent and trademark examiners—work diligently every day to secure the IP rights of inventors and brand owners and fulfill the agency’s constitutional mandate “to promote the progress of science and useful arts.”

Additionally, we provide our IP expertise and leadership to U.S. government officials, foreign governments, and others on a wide-ranging portfolio of domestic and international policy matters, including on how best to protect and enforce IP rights in the face of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

AI, of course, has long been part of national, international, industry, academic, and even kitchen table discussions. And though some of the innovations that AI embodies—speech recognition, image recognition, search and optimization, and even early neural networks—were conceptualized as early as the 1950s, the significant breakthroughs are more contemporary.

Today, AI is becoming ubiquitous in our society. For example, faster, more-powerful processors and chips now provide sufficient computing power to perform trillions of calculations per second. Very quickly, AI technologies are evolving from far-off dreams of science fiction to mainstream, everyday uses that take computers to new levels at awe-inspiring speeds.

In recognition of these fast-paced developments in AI, the United States—as well as governments around the world—are adopting long-term, comprehensive strategies to promote and provide leadership for the technological advances of the future. For example, the president’s FY 2019 budget requests over $2 billion for AI research and development, and prioritizes fundamental AI research. This is because America’s national security and economic prosperity depend on the United States’ ability to maintain a leadership role in AI and other emerging technologies. Additionally, the National Security Strategy calls for the U.S. to prioritize critical emerging technologies and particularly emphasizes AI as a field that is advancing rapidly.

On the global stage, the U.S. is working with the other G5 members to “advance a shared understanding of how to best seize the opportunities presented by AI.” From countries as small as Singapore to ones as large as China, nations around the world have become extremely competitive in the innovation ecosphere and especially assertive in emerging technologies like AI. Only by innovating faster and in key areas will the U.S. be able to remain competitive. AI has significant implications for intellectual property law, the economy, and America’s position as the global innovation leader. All that is the focus of today’s conference.

There are, of course, many AI efforts underway at the USPTO, including the potential of engagement with academia and industry to help us identify the most advanced patent search tools. For example, we recently sent out a Request for Information (RFI) and asked industry to provide us with techniques that leverage AI for purposes of improving our patent examination processes.

The RFI asked four basic questions:

  • How can we effectively and consistently search further?
  • How can we segment information more effectively?
  • How can the USPTO patent search retrieve the most relevant results—not just more results—from a broader corpus?
  • How can we review the search results more quickly?

We cast a wide net and received more than 60 responses from industry-leaders in the AI field, from the largest companies to small businesses.

We’re also working on this internally. For example, here at the USPTO, we’ve developed—and are exploring—a new cognitive assistant called “U” or “Unity,” which leverages AI and machine learning in a way that augments our existing next-generation patent tools. The tool is intended to allow patent examiners, through a single-click, to conduct a “federated search” across patents, publications, non-patent literature, and images. And, through AI and machine learning-based algorithms, this would present to the examiner the results in the form of a “pre-search” report.

We’re also exploring semi-automated tools for “search query expansion,” trained to mine technology-specific synonyms with the help of crowd or “examiner-sourcing.” This new capability holds the potential to promote consistency in searching and to more quickly surface prior art that may be located in any of several disparate databases. And that’s important, because one of the benchmarks of a high-quality patent is whether it can withstand fair challenges down the road. Surfacing the best prior art early helps to increase the likelihood that this will happen. AI can help us do that.

We’re also testing new AI tools and techniques such as robotic process automation (RPA) that could generate smart office action templates, which are automatically populated based on the interactions between examiner and attorney, saving our examiners time from some of the more tedious clerical aspects of generating office actions.

And, in an effort to reduce the costs of manually classifying patents, we’re exploring the use of AI technology to ensure that we route the right case to the right examiner. This, in turn, enables us to organize our workforce more efficiently and, as a result, conduct more effective examinations.

So, these are just a few of the ways we’re exploring the use of AI within the USPTO.

Outside of our agency, AI has significant implications for the law, the economy, and America’s position as the global innovation leader. Not surprisingly, AI is changing the landscape of intellectual property policy, and in doing so, it’s raising real legal, regulatory, ethical, and moral questions for us to grapple with. I am sure other speakers will address many of these issues in their remarks throughout today’s discussion. Some speakers may advocate for changes in our laws, while others may flag specific issues where guidance may be useful. We’ll also hear about approaches that policy makers in other countries are taking.

For example, policy makers will need to consider:

  • Whether the legal concepts of inventor or author will be fundamentally changed by AI
  • Who retains title to an improvement developed by a machine? The original programmer, machine owner, or even the machine, itself?
  • Should using copyrighted works to “train” AI systems constitute fair use or some other exception?
  • How do we assess patentability as well as the risk of bias when there is little transparency regarding how algorithms are trained and function?
  • How will firms, both large and small, protect AI-related inventions?

This conference is meant to be a starting point for further discussions, to highlight issues we’ve seen so far, and pave the way for future thought and policy leadership. Such questions cut across industrial sectors and national boundaries and many do not have viable answers yet. But how we choose to answer them will have major national economic implications. We hope that by focusing on the issues in the areas of patents, trade secrets, trademarks, copyright, and enforcement, we can demonstrate the importance of bringing IP expertise to broader discussions on AI.

As director of the USPTO, one of my top priorities is making sure the United States continues its leadership when it comes to innovation, especially in the emerging technologies of the future, including AI and machine learning. To that end, we must harness our long history of innovation, born of our nation’s founding document and perpetuated by our people’s innovative spirit, and apply the same spirit to AI technologies.

Thank you again for your participation, and I look forward to continuing the conversation with all of you throughout the day.