Despite Pledging Openness, Companies Rush to Patent AI Tech


At Google’s cloud computing convention in San Francisco final week, CEO Sundar Pichai mused on his firm’s dedication to openness in synthetic intelligence.

“We create open platforms and share our technology because it helps new ideas get out faster,” Pichai stated. Then he name-checked TensorFlow, the machine-learning software program Google developed and makes use of internally. The firm open-sourced the code in 2015, and it has since been downloaded greater than 15 million occasions. “We created TensorFlow to make it possible for anyone to use AI,” Pichai stated.

Such homilies to openness have develop into normal from the massive tech firms competing intensely to develop AI know-how. Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft have all, like Google, launched software program their very own engineers use for machine studying as open supply. All, together with to some extent famously secretive Apple, encourage their AI researchers to publish their newest concepts—serving to the businesses recruit the brightest college and grad college students from universities.

At the identical time, these proponents of AI openness are additionally working to assert possession of AI strategies and purposes. Patent claims associated to AI, and specifically machine studying, have accelerated sharply in recent times. So far, tech firms haven’t transformed these patents into lawsuits and authorized threats to thwart rivals. But ought to AI patents develop into company weapons, the present openness round AI analysis and concepts may finish, seemingly hampering analysis.

A National Bureau of Economic Research research launched this month exhibits US filings associated to machine studying, the know-how driving the present AI increase, rising quickly. “We’ve seen a huge explosion of patenting activity in AI and machine learning, and I see this exponential growth continuing,” says Michael Webb, a Stanford researcher and coauthor of the research.

In 2010, there have been 145 US patent filings that talked about machine studying, the research says. In 2016, there have been 594—a determine that’s incomplete, because the US Patent and Trademark Office solely makes filings public 18 months after they’ve been registered. (Webb and his colleagues gathered their information in February.) Patent filings mentioning neural networks, a machine-learning approach, climbed to 485 in 2016, from 94 in 2010.

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Google itself exemplifies the development. In 2010, just one Google submitting talked about machine studying or neural networks in its summary or title, based on a search of the USPTO database. In 2016, there have been 99 such filings from Google and different Alphabet firms. Facebook filed for 55 patents associated to machine studying or neural networks in 2016, up from zero in 2010. IBM, which has been granted extra US patents than every other firm for the previous 25 years operating, boasts that in 2017 it received 1,400 AI-related patents, greater than ever earlier than.

It’s not shocking that patent filings associated to AI are rising. In 2012, neural networks all of the sudden grew to become a scorching subject of curiosity from tech firms, after they enabled massive enhancements in speech and picture recognition. But the strikes to lock up know-how distinction with the emphasis on openness in firms’ public dialogue of their AI methods.

The patent-filing surge recollects the fierce battles over mental property within the final massive tech revolution, round smartphones. Apple and Samsung have fought at the least 50 lawsuits over know-how and designs for smartphones, based on the NBER paper; Apple and Google tussled in about 20.

More patents filed in a specific space make lawsuits extra seemingly, says Richard Abramson, a Stanford lecturer who beforehand was normal counsel at unbiased analysis institute SRI. “If you give everybody a gun you can pretty much bet the incidence of shooting is going to rise,” he says.

Litigation over AI may hurt the open progress tech giants say they need. Twenty-five years in the past, patent fits had been largely disputes between firms combating to make use of particular know-how of their merchandise, Abramson says. Today many are introduced by firms, typically dubbed “trolls,” holding patents they don’t plan to make use of for something however extracting compensation. “Now companies are freaked out by patent troll activity, and a lot of them stockpile patents in order to have something to shoot back,” he says.

There’s no indication but that any of the main AI firms are working to leverage their AI patents. Spokespeople for Google and DeepMind each stated that their firms maintain patents defensively, not with the intent to start out fights with others. Google’s spokesperson additionally famous that the corporate accounts for a small minority of latest AI-related filings. A Facebook spokesperson stated its filings shouldn’t be learn to point present or future plans. IBM’s chief patent counsel, Manny Schecter, stated the corporate’s patent horde displays its funding in basic analysis.

Those statements go away room for future modifications in coverage. Given the latest historical past of fights over tech patents, some researchers nonetheless fear the AI patents piling up might be utilized in ways in which may stifle progress. Assessing the worth and scope of patents is complicated, and even professional interpretations can range. But a few of the purposes filed by Google and others seem to explain basic strategies with broad purposes in analysis, says Miles Brundage, who researches tendencies in AI growth on the University of Oxford. “It’s not had an impact yet, but this might be a ticking time bomb,” he says.

DeepMind, the Alphabet unit behind the AlphaGo software program that defeated a world champion at Go, has filed purposes together with on DQN, an extension to a studying algorithm originating within the 1980s that helped DeepMind software program grasp Atari video games. Since DeepMind revealed educational work on DQN, researchers elsewhere have explored and prolonged its insights.

Google has a patent pending on dropout, a now-standard approach used to assist neural networks generalize to new information they weren’t skilled on. One Facebook utility covers an method to designing neural networks dubbed reminiscence networks, which improve a standard machine-learning system for processing textual content with a sort of short-term reminiscence.

Mark Riedl, a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology at the moment on go away to work at Salesforce’s AI analysis group in Palo Alto, says patents on algorithms and different basic machine-learning strategies make him uneasy. The patents filed to this point have not but induced issues for researchers, however assigning authorized possession of comparatively summary concepts doesn’t match with the open progress that has currently made machine studying so thrilling, he says.

Not all of the patents lately filed on AI concepts and strategies shall be awarded. Patents on software program have develop into tougher to get since a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that merely implementing an concept on a pc isn’t sufficient to make it patentable. And final 12 months, USPTO considerably expanded the variety of examiners devoted to scrutinizing AI patents, one thing anticipated to display screen out extra purposes.

Big modifications in what sorts of AI concepts may be patented appear unlikely, although. “The companies filing a lot of applications in this space are a big portion of the economy,” says Joe Holovachuk, a patent lawyer with the agency Pepper Hamilton. That means they’ll pay for lobbyists and attorneys to push lawmakers or courts to assist their favored method—which appears to be making all types of AI strategies broadly patentable.

In what might be music to the ears of tech firms, the director of the Patent and Trademark Office, Andrei Iancu, has signaled that he’s been fascinated with AI patents. In April he informed the Senate Judiciary Committee that he believes latest court docket choices have muddied the query of whether or not algorithms may be patented. Iancu thinks algorithms, together with in AI, usually at all times may be. “We have to ensure our insurance policies, together with IP, are extremely targeted on incentivizing that kind of innovation,” he stated.


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