UK High Court Ruling Could Give AI Patent Applicants a Clearer Pathway to Patent Eligibility
12 Dec 2023

UK High Court Ruling Could Give AI Patent Applicants a Clearer Pathway to Patent Eligibility

Artificial intelligence (AI) systems are already making major impacts on productivity across a range of industries from transportation to financial services to manufacturing and more. AI platforms rely on computer systems to function properly, which has raised legal questions for many tech developers in the space over the current state of patent law related to computing technologies. Software, often critical to the functioning of AI systems, is a particular area of uncertainty in countries like the United States or the United Kingdom (UK), where legal standards often render software ineligible for patent protection.


Emotional Perception AI: Artificial Neural Networks Might Not Be Computer Programs


SHIP Global IP has recently learned about a major UK court decision that has excited many in the AI community. In Emotional Perception AI v. Comptroller-General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks, Sir Anthony Mann of the UK High Court of Justice issued the first decision by a UK court deciding whether patent claims covering an AI system trigger the legal exclusion that prevents companies from patenting computer programs in the UK.


Overturning an examiner’s rejection to patent claims covering an AI system for generating music recommendations for consumers, Sir Mann clarified that at least some AI inventions do not necessarily trigger the computer program exclusion. While patent claims directed to software are rejected under the exclusion, physical hardware having electronic components are patentable.


The patent claims in this case cover an artificial neural network (ANN), which can be embodied in either hardware or software. As Sir Mann’s decision notes at the beginning, “courts have had to grapple from time to time with the difficulties of this concept in relation to what I can call traditional computers and software.”


At the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO), the hearing officer rejecting Emotional Perception AI’s patent application believed that an ANN cannot be decoupled from the software platform operating the ANN. Thus, any improvements in Emotional Perception AI’s claimed ANN system were not technical in nature. Emotional Perception AI appealed the UKIPO’s decision to the UK courts.


Global IP Translation and Filing Solutions Turn Legal Knowledge into Business Revenues


Sir Anthony Mann’s ruling on appeal determined that the UKIPO hearing officer did not properly delineate the computer program that was unpatentable under UK patent law and the hardware computer that was eligible for patent protections. This difference is much simpler in other cases involving the computer program exclusion, which did not involve an AI system having self-training elements implemented by software.


In Emotional Perception AI, Sir Mann’s analysis involved technical aspects of ANNs that are emulated by software, which enables the computer to function as a hardware ANN. Whereas the UKIPO hearing officer believed the emulated ANN was software, Sir Mann found that the ANN was properly decoupled from human inputs once the training model of the ANN is frozen and the ANN operates without further self-improvement.


Over the past two decades, legal developments across the world have pushed many computer-related technologies, especially software, toward the realm of patent ineligibility. This has created uncertainty for many clients trusting SHIP Global IP with their international patent application management solutions. Companies that have developed AI systems with technological improvements are finding themselves stymied by a shifting legal landscape that threatens investments in patent application filings.


An experienced patent translation and IP management partner can help AI companies implement their filing strategies with speed and security. SHIP Global IP’s global network of patent agents and patent attorneys can help you quickly take advantage of favorable patent law developments in nations with strong consumer markets.


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