Could the next patent wars be fought over AI (artificial intelligence)? Undoubtably, patent lawsuits have been heating up in the self-driving car space. Google’s self-driving unit, Waymo, sued Uber over the latter’s “Otto” self-driving truck. The lawsuit included trade secret theft allegations—of course, it didn’t hurt that Google has a large number of patents in this area.
Indeed, there is concern that the self-driving patent wars could be as bad as the cell phone patent wars, which are still ongoing (Apple sues Google who sues Microsoft who sues Samsung…you get the idea).
Ways to Protect Your AI Startup
In such a perilous environment, it may seem like all hope is lost in protecting your startup. But fear not—there is a knight in shining armor! To start, you can file your own patents. Patents are both a sword and shield. That is, you can use patents defensively: to defend yourself against patent lawsuits, and offensively: to stop copycats. Patents work as a defense because you can offer your patents under license or even exchange the rights to said patents, with the company that is attacking you. You still own your patents – and the other side owns theirs – but now both sides benefit from the IP (intellectual property).
Be warned: you need to file fast because patents are awarded to the first to file (appropriately called the “First to File Rule”). If you file too late, someone else could file before you – and block you.
How Hot Are AI Patents?
Well, a quick search for all published US patent applications that mention AI or related terms found nearly 80,000 published patent applications. Of these, over 11,000 were published in 2017 to date. About 11,000 were published in 2016 – an increase of about 20% in 2017 if the trend holds.
All of these statistics tell a story: as you may have predicted, many companies are pushing into the AI space-- and are frantically protecting their ideas – before someone else does.
As you might expect, BigCos in this area are filing for many patents. And they’ll definitely use them against anyone who tries to use similar ideas. For example, Microsoft is leading in general AI patents, but Google (Waymo) is leading in self-driving car patents.
There is still hope for the non-Googles and non-Microsofts of the world: AI startups are doing their best to catch up, by filing for their own patents. As we mentioned in our last blog post, Cruise Automation (self-driving cars, acquired by GM) has 6 US patent applications. MindMeld (chatbots) has 4 US patents. Clarifai (content monitoring and moderation, visual recognition as a service for app developers) has 2 US patent applications.
If you’re in AI, you should start to worry about your fellow AI startups– they’re filing for lots of patents! And their patents could also block you—which means they have the potential to keep your startup from achieving its full potential.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. Remember the “First to File Rule” that I mentioned above? This means that the AI patent wars are also an arms race. The first one to file a patent for a particular idea, wins. There is no second place. As a result, you don’t want to delay filing your patent. The longer you wait, the more likely it will be that someone else has already filed for your idea.
Fortunately, at KISSPatent we can help you win that race. Want to find out more? Tune in for our next series of blog posts on AI, as we continue to write about a fascinating, rapidly developing tech sector.