Software, AI & Robots – Are patents still relevant?

Everywhere you look technology is disrupting modern society and the laws that regulate behaviours. Last weekend the Badger met a friend who recently joined a small software product company to investigate whether aspects of their products can be patented. Over a glass of wine, the Badger was asked about his own encounters with software patents in the IT services industry and responded with a simple message. Unless you have the time, money and lawyers to prepare and progress a patent to the point it’s granted and the resources, money and lawyers to pursue those who breach it, then don’t bother!

Why? Because in three decades of building lots of software systems and products there were many discussions on protecting intellectual property via patents, but none that led to a patent being granted and only one unsubstantiated challenge by a 3rd party of patent infringement. The Badger’s message was met with a knowing nod because my friend felt his employer – an outfit with <300 staff and offices in multiple countries – did not have the time, money or resources.

On the train home the Badger cogitated on the following questions. Have there been any land mark events in the world of software patenting? How does AI and robotics impact patenting? Do patents have any global relevance when for years China has a preponderance for intellectual property theft? A quick search of the internet was informative.

On the first question, the Alice Corp vs CLS Bank International case in the US has triggered a significant decline in software related patent applications. On the second, AI and robots are being very disruptive in the patent world with much head-scratching underway, and on the third question, the Artful Engineers recent blog rather says it all. It’s worth a read because you can feel the human frustration of someone who’s patent and product has been blatantly breached by the Chinese! Clearly the relevance of patents is questionable when the world’s second largest power behaves in this way.

It seems, at least to the Badger, that fast moving tech, and especially AI & robotics, is playing havoc with the patent world. Software, AI and robotics highlight the need for complete modernisation of patenting to make it fit for the rapidly changing world of the 21st century. It’s woefully behind the curve. So, are patents relevant in the era of AI, software and robotics? Probably only for mega-corporates with armies of lawyers and deep pockets… but even they must wonder what the point is when China can’t be trusted to respect the intellectual property of others.

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