Technological innovation is the cornerstone of human evolution.
Whether you’re building newer and better motorcycle engines, writing thousands upon thousands of lines of code, finding unique ways to do business, or designing signature elements of a business, intellectual property will prove necessary for the security of your business.
What is IP Law?
Intellectual property law is the field of law that focuses on the protection of what lawyers refer to as “intangible assets.” These assets can be anything from an idea to the way that you do your business. But this isn’t to say that intellectual property only protects intangible assets. Rather, by registering your intangible assets with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), you also protect all subsequent productions of those intangible assets.
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This means that a musician’s MP3 or other audio files will be protected just as much as his written sheet music. The same goes for an engine-manufacturer. Once they register their engine schematics with the USPTO, those schematics and every physical manifestation created from them are protected by the government.
How do these laws apply to AI?
There are four primary categories for protected intellectual property: copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. Different parts of each section of artificial intelligence research fall into different categories.
For example, the code that you write for your product will fall into the copyright category. This is how you’ll register the programming and software that goes into making your AI smarter than your lawyer.
The patent category is where you’ll register any hardware that you invented in the pursuit of housing your AI, such as your robot’s digital nose and neural web.
Trademarks and trade secrets are a little less relevant to the production of artificial intelligence, though both are considered important for business operations specialists to understand. Trademarks will secure your symbols, brand name, logo, slogans, etc. against theft, and the trade secrets category will do the same for you general day-to-day operating secrets.
The benefits of IP protection
We may not like to admit it, but at the end of the day it all comes down to money. If you can’t produce profitable technology, you can’t expect to get funding to continue your research. This means that your bottom line isn’t just financial; your career and your dreams hang in the balance.
Fortunately for you, by registering your intellectual property, you can ensure that you rake in as much money as possible. Because of the fact that intellectual property laws serve to create government-backed monopolies, you’ll even be able to profit by doing nothing while simultaneously crippling your competition.
In the words of J.D. Houvener, a Washington DC patent attorney, “Patenting your tech is like killing two birds with one stone.” Not only do you receive a significant boost to your revenue through the generation of artificial scarcity and the consolidation of supply, but you do so at the expense of everybody else, including your competitors.
The costs of IP protections
Because of the typically high patent cost, it might be a better idea to program your artificial intelligence with a working knowledge of international patent laws. Otherwise, you’re most likely going to need to hire a lawyer.
Filing for a patent can take upwards of two years and cost more than $40,000, depending on how well you fill out your forms, whether or not you have any high-up connections, and what your subject matter is (i.e., what you’re trying to patent).
Copyrights, on the other hand, can be registered in as few as just a couple months and can cost less than $50 in most cases. A few branches of the U.S. Copyright Office have even streamlined their application process to enable you to request copyright for multiple sets of code all at the same time; however, for the most part, this ability is restricted to photographers at the current time.
The IP process
The question of how to patent an idea is a tricky one. The simple answer is that there is no simple answer. Despite the uniformity of American bureaucracy, there are still quite a large number of peculiarities from one application to the next, making each attempt at securing a different intellectual property privilege a challenge unique unto itself.
For the most part, however, there are four requirements for patenting your AI hardware.
This just means that you have to register the right content in the right category. As a general rule of thumb, the software goes to the Copyright Office and the hardware goes to the Patent and Trademark Office.
Your hardware has to be completely new. This means that you can’t have simply taken somebody else’s idea and patented it before they could get their application in the mail.
This category presents entrepreneurs with the biggest challenge in securing their patents. Essentially, what this means is that your technology cannot simply be considered the “next logical step” in the evolution of a previous patent (unless you own the previous patent).
When it comes to AI and refining your code and building on the research and writings of all previous thinkers, this can be quite a challenge.
The final qualification for a patent is that your technology is useful. You can’t just go around patenting lemons. Your tech has to actually function the way that it is intended to or else you’ll be spending tens of thousands of dollars on registration fees only to be denied.
Let’s face it. Your time is better spent in the computer lab or in the shop, writing code and building hardware. You shouldn’t be wasting your time trying to Google patents or find out how to file them. Just get a lawyer.
It’s not giving up, it’s just the Law of Comparative Advantage. Do what you do best, let others do what they do best, and together you’ll have access to the best of both worlds. After all, isn’t the best of both worlds (mind and machine) what you’re trying to create?
Now that you have a better understanding of intellectual property laws and how they apply to your work, you’ll be better equipped to protect your technology against theft and competition!