Artificial intelligence and intellectual property: an interview with Francis Gurry


Ahead of the 2018 meetings of WIPO’s Assemblies, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry shares his views on the implications of artificial intelligence (AI) for intellectual property (IP) law and policy and its use in the administration of IP systems around the world.


How would you characterize the impact of AI?

AI is a new digital frontier that will have a profound impact on the world. It will have enormous technological, economic, and social consequences and is going to transform the way we produce and distribute goods and services, as well as the way we work and live.

What impact will AI-enabled technologies have on innovation and creativity?

It is too early to say, but it is clear that AI will have an impact on traditional IP concepts. Commercial AI-generated music and AI-created inventions are not far off, and will transform the concepts of the “composer,” “author,” and “inventor” – although precisely how is not yet clear.

The fundamental goals of the IP system have always been to encourage new technologies and creative works, and to create a sustainable economic basis for invention and creation. From a purely economic perspective, if we set aside other aims of the IP system, such as “just reward” and moral rights, there is no reason why we shouldn’t use IP to reward AI-generated inventions or creations. But this still requires some thought. The answers are not yet clear.

The broad use of AI technologies will also transform established IP concepts – patents, designs, literary and artistic works, and so on. This is already happening, but is a consequence of the digital economy, not AI alone. For example, the life sciences generate enormous quantities of data that have significant value but don’t constitute an invention in the classical sense. So we need to work out the rights and obligations that attach to them.

There are strong social views on this already. The “open” movements for science, data, and publication, for example, favor the view that data should not have proprietary categories placed on them. They argue that, as data is a foundation of AI, it should be freely available to enable the development of AI and other applications.

AI is a new digital frontier that will have a profound impact on the world.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry

But, of equal importance in the current economic context, we have established property rights for intangibles to provide incentives for investment in the creation of new knowledge and to ensure fair competition.

These two approaches need to be reconciled. Lines will have to be drawn between the need to keep channels of data open and flowing, on the one hand, and the need to close them to ensure the right incentives are in place for the creation of new knowledge, on the other hand.

Data and algorithms raise a number of fundamental IP-related questions. For example, how do you create property rights in an algorithm that is constantly changing, to the extent that your invention is not the same even one...

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