Imagine what the world would be like if artificial intelligence (AI) mastered creativity. Robots would be able to create art works and make inventions. Such a scenario is not so far-fetched. Some preliminary examples of robots that create new art (the next Rembrandt) and invent medicaments (robot “scientists” that can conduct their own experiments and discover drugs to combat deadly diseases) already exist.
Intellectual Property (IP) rights, such as patents and copyrights, are legal rights allowing creators/inventors and owners to benefit from their efforts exclusively at least for a limited time. These benefits have proven to be strong incentives for innovation and development and can thus be regarded as pivotal for driving the economy. As a result of exclusive rights and the income generated with their help, creators and inventors will invest more time, effort and money in new creations/inventions. In fact, IP is thought to be the foundation of any advanced economy and to foster all aspects of modern life, be it art, software, life sciences, computers and other gadgets we think we cannot live without anymore.
As of today, creations and inventions are made by humans and legally assigned to human beings. A person making an invention, however, has not necessarily the rights on his or her creation. If this person is employed, i.e. has a labor contract, the invention belongs by law to the employer. Nevertheless, the creator has to be named as the inventor. According to the legal thinking of today, a human being has to contribute intellectually to the creation of something in order to designate the result of this process an invention. What if future robots make creations/inventions without the interference of their current owner? The owner of a robot might have bought or constructed it, but did not contribute intellectually to the invention. A plethora of questions are waiting for an answer:
Who will own the rights on such creations and who is the artist or inventor? The owner of the robot? The inventor of the robot? The initial programmer of the robot or its machine-learning program? The seller of the creation? Would assigning the rights to the robot make sense? Or should inventions by robots be excluded from protection as a general rule? Who is the inventor? What if a robot and a natural person made the same invention, resulting in a fight over inventorship and ownership? Who is liable when AI infringes an existing patent? These questions have to be considered in the light of the above-mentioned incentives for innovation to drive the economy and ethical aspects of ownership.
Challengers | Prof. Dr. Heinz Müller, Patent Expert Life Sciences
& Dr. med. vet. Christian Moser Nikles, Patent Expert Life Sciences,
Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property
Heinz Mueller is professor emeritus for medical biochemistry at the University of Basel and patent expert at the
Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property. He was educated as a biochemist at the ETH Zurich, where he also received his PhD. In 1985, he moved to the US to work for several years at different research institutions in San Diego (UCSD, Scripps Research Institute) and Chicago (Northwestern University). He returned to Switzerland to work as a principal investigator in breast cancer research at the University of Basel. From this university, he received his Venia legendi and the title of a professor. In 2002, he started working at the patent department of the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property while remaining a regular lecturer in biochemistry at the medical faculty of the University of Basel. He also teaches intellectual property law at different Swiss universities, in particular for life science students, and has written extensively on a number of pertinent articles for several publications on this topic.
Christian Moser is a patent expert in life sciences and working at the IPI since 2014. Besides his activity as professional patent researcher and examiner, he is involved in IPI’s efforts to promote IP awareness at universities and in the private industry. Christian Moser is a trained veterinarian with a PhD in molecular virology. After his education at the University of Bern and a postdoc at the University of Pennsylvania, he spent more than a decade in the Swiss vaccine industry in various scientific and management roles.