Remarks by Director Iancu at the International Conference on AI-Emerging Technologies and IP

Remarks delivered at the International Conference on AI-Emerging Technologies and IP

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

July 16, 2019

Tel Aviv, Israel

As prepared for delivery

Thank you for the kind introduction. It is an honor for me to be here today, and especially to be with WIPO Director General Francis Gurry, the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva Aviva Raz Shechter, the Executive Director of the Israel Patent Office Ofir Alon, the CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority Aharon Aharon, and heads of IP offices from around the world.

Greetings from Washington, D.C. It is an honor to be with all of you here, in Israel.

I arrived a few days ago on a non-stop flight from Washington. This non-stop is relatively new, by the way. It’s never been easier to travel to Israel. Not that long ago, the situation was very different.

Israel, of course, is a land that is well-acquainted with antiquity. But we don’t have to go back that far. Just a couple of hundred years ago, we would have traveled here by boat and horse (or camel), like in antiquity. We would have been meeting today by candlelight, just as in antiquity. And the only medicine available for anesthesia was still just a shot of whiskey. Even though civilizations have been around for thousands of years and around the globe – ancient Hebrews and Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, Mayans and Aztecs – the state of the human condition just a couple of hundred years ago was essentially the same as in antiquity.

But look at us now: airflight and television, electricity and telephone, medicines, surgery equipment, and cancer treatments. Instant communications across the globe. And so much more.

The pace of human development in the modern era far exceeds all development in all of the millennia of human existence combined.

This started with the industrial revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. The steam engine first, and then it all took off. But why did it take off at that time in particular? There were other technological advances in the past. What was different this time to cause this rapid and uninterrupted growth?

As it turns out, I believe that a key factor has been the advent of the modern IP system. For as President Abraham Lincoln said, the patent system “added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.”

First, IP is the ultimate expression of global creativity and talent. Patents, trademarks and copyrights encourage this creativity because they incentivize people to share their ideas.  In return, those people receive the support and protection of a strong IP system. Second, IP promotes competition and forces technical advances. If the first inventor is successful, others want to partake of the new market or the new technology. But because that first particular application is patented for a period of time, competitors are forced to invent something different, often something better.

And so a pro-competitive cycle develops. Intellectual property protection creates perpetual innovation and at accelerating rates. And so, the modern IP systems democratized invention and promoted technological competition for the first time in human history.

And soon, a second industrial revolution took shape, where inventors like Bell, Edison, and Ford laid the foundations for automation and communications. And then, revolutions in computing and digital technology took hold over the last several decades with paradigm-shattering innovations like the global internet. All of this incredible progress has been done within the modern IP system.

Indeed, humanity does not know progress at this scale without intellectual property.

Today, we stand on the cusp of what some call the fourth industrial revolution. Whatever the name, the new wave of disruptive technologies is clearly identifiable: artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, 5G communications, biotechnology, and so much more.

However fast the pace of development has been in the past, I firmly believe that we have seen nothing yet. The growth rate in these new technologies around the globe will be exponential. And IP protection is as important in these new areas as they’ve ever been.

Here is a hint, based on some preliminary statistics on AI innovation. According to the WIPO Technology Trends 2019-Artificial Intelligence Publication, we know that machine learning is the dominant AI field “and is included in more than one-third of all identified inventions.” AI published applications grew by 400% in the past decade. At the USPTO, AI technologies are part of about 26% of annual patent filings, which is a 34% increase in the share of AI patent filings since 2005. And we have doubled the number of examiners at the USPTO reviewing AI applications.

AI patent applications, of course, pose certain unique and interesting questions.  For example: What level of detail is necessary in a patent disclosure as to the structure and functioning of the algorithm that underlines a new AI tool? An AI algorithm, that by definition is capable to learn on its own, sometimes performs certain tasks in ways unknown to the programmers. So, how can the inner workings be disclosed such that one of ordinary skill can replicate the invention without undue experimentation (a requirement of our patent system)?

Another question we must grapple with is whether current legal concepts of an “inventor” need to be changed. For example, under what circumstances, if any, could a machine “conceive” of an invention? Or could a machine be named as a co-inventor? The USPTO Manual for Patent Examination Procedure states that: “The requirement that the applicant for a patent be the inventor is a fundamental characteristic of U.S. patent law.” But who is that inventor? That distinction becomes gray when machines are able to create based on human programming.

Turning to the enforcement side, will AI will make it easier, or more difficult, to find infringing uses? And if the AI itself causes infringement, who actually is liable for the infringement?

There are a host of other questions too, including ownership, subject matter eligibility, and more. The USPTO has a task team focused on these questions, and we will seek public input as well.

Artificial Intelligence is also impacting the way we work in government IP offices, including at the USPTO. Specifically, our respective offices are utilizing the advances in AI to help our examiners as they review the applications coming in. At the USPTO, for example, integrating AI to augment classification and search is a very high priority in the agency. Over the past year we have explored using AI for search expansion and refinement, assist with patent classification tools, and locating similar images. The most promising of these AI capabilities have already been identified and are being prioritized for inclusion into our search system in order to pilot with examiners. 

And on the Trademarks side, we have been exploring using AI for image search to help find prior similar images, and also to identify fraudulent specimens. We are also looking into using AI to identify, reduce, and mitigate unauthorized or other improper activities related to trademark matters. But much work remains.

Separately, we are now also developing further enhancements with AI that will streamline the data generation and analysis we rely upon for automating mission critical operational and business decisions in our advanced routing system. The USPTO engages the world to better understand where to apply AI data extraction techniques to unlock our highest value data sets for the public.

Last March marked the USPTO’s first production deployment of a public-facing product that uses AI for data extraction to unlock a legacy data set called “Enriched Citations.” Using AI techniques we were able to leapfrog our legacy systems to harmonize USPTO Office Action data to that of other International Offices from several years to delivery, to a couple of months. Using these same techniques, we just released Office Action and Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) data sets, to provide the public with greater insight into the patent evaluation process by allowing users to quickly view information about prior art cited in specific patent application office actions.

There are, of course, many other AI efforts underway at the USPTO, including the potential of engagement with industry to help us identify the most advanced search tools.

The USPTO also has bilateral and multilateral engagement with other IP offices exploring AI tools. One such effort is the “Image Search Project,” a cooperative effort of the TM5, the five largest trademark offices in the world. This project incorporates machine learning to enhance image search database systems to improve trademark examination.

And of course, we look forward to continuing our close collaboration with the Israel Patent Office on a variety of IP issues. Work in AI is truly international, and the United States and Israel play a big part. We can see this from patent filings. At the USPTO, inventions from the United States obviously dominate. IBM files the most, by a significant number. Microsoft, Amazon, Intel and Google follow. Many of these companies of course, also have a presence in Israel and develop some technology here. And companies from Japan, India, China, and Korea also have significant AI filings at the USPTO.

In recent years, by the way, filings from Israel ranked next, right after these large nations. So despite its smaller size, Israel has had more AI filings at the USPTO in some years than Canada, Germany, Great Britain, France, and the rest of the world. And on a per capita basis, Israel leads outright. In 2018, for example, Israel ranked first at the USPTO in AI filings per capita. This was ahead of all countries, including the United States. And this is true of many technologies, not just AI.

Israeli and American-Israeli inventors have been an inspiration in many fields. Take, for example, Adi Shamir, Leonard Adelman and Ron Rivest, the co-inventors of RSA cryptography. Born in Tel Aviv in 1952, Dr. Shamir received a bachelors in mathematics in 1973 from Tel Aviv University, as well as a masters and PhD in computer science from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. In 1977, he joined the research staff at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he met Ron Rivest and Leonard Adelman. Soon, the pioneers published a paper entitled, “A method for obtaining digital signatures and public-key cryptosystems,” which showed how a message could easily be encoded, sent to a recipient, and decoded with little chance of it being decoded by a third party who sees it.

Today, the process is known as the “RSA” method, derived from the initials of the three inventors’ surnames: Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman. Between the three, they collectively took 42 attempts to perfect their system. As these inventors can attest, the invention process is neither quick nor easy. It almost never is.  But in the end, tenacity and perseverance—hallmarks of the greatest innovators—reap great rewards.

On September 20, 1983, the USPTO issued Patent No. 4,405,829 for a “Cryptographic Communications System and Method” to Rivest, Shamir, and Adleman. This team also founded RSA Security in the early 1980s, which EMC Corporation acquired almost 25 years later for $2.1 billion.

In 2002, Dr. Shamir and his co-inventors won the ACM Turing Award, and just last year were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) for their patented RSA encryption algorithm. I met Dr. Shamir (and Rivest) at that Hall of Fame induction ceremony. And it was a great honor. Their work inspired and supported so much follow-up research and innovation, including AI, and so many other inventors. This is how inventors work within a robust IP system, and this is why the pace of invention keeps growing.

Human advancement has consistently been pushed forward by our inventors. They are our heroes. It is our inventors that will continue to push human development to even greater heights, through artificial intelligence and beyond. Because of them, the future of innovation is bright indeed. And IP offices around the world need to support them.

I look forward to continued collaborations between our nations, the United States and Israel, so that we can build upon all the successes we’ve had working together thus far, and so that we can keep supporting the work of all of our inventors.

And speaking of collaboration, I want to introduce the USPTO’s attaché to the Middle East, Peter Mehravari. Pete is attached to embassies in the region, including here in Israel. He is an expert on the IP system in the U.S. and locally, and is always available to answer any questions. So, for example, if you are an Israeli business wanting to know about IP in the US, or an American business wanting to know about IP in Israel, or elsewhere in the region, please call on him.

I, Pete, and the rest of the USPTO stand ready to assist in any way we can as we continue to work together to encourage innovation and create strong IP systems worldwide. Thank you again for the invitation to speak here today.