How Computer-Automated Inventing is Revolutionizing Law and Business

I have always maintained a digressions section of the blog, down in the corner of the left hand side of the blog, for the purpose of allowing me to talk about areas of my practice - like intellectual property litigation - other than those listed in the title of the blog; its also there to give me space for subjects that are of interest to me but of only tangential relation to the subjects of either the blog or my practice, such as the financial underpinnings of the Massachusetts Health Care Reform Act.

This time around I have decided to make use of my editorial prerogatives and the digressions section of the blog to welcome my first ever guest blogger, Robert Plotkin. Longtime readers may remember other references to Robert in patent related blog entries; Robert is a long time patent lawyer who specializes, in particular, in patent protection for computer technology, and was named a "Go-To Law Firm for Leading Technology Companies" by American Lawyer Media in 2008.

Stanford University Press has just published Robert’s new book, The Genie in the Machine: How Computer-Automated Inventing is Revolutionizing Law and Business, and the ideas behind it - the manner in which such automated inventing strays from and thus may impact the paradigms under which we understand patent prosecution and patent law - fascinate me. The Boston ERISA and Insurance Litigation blog, despite its massive advertising revenue (place tongue firmly in cheek while reading that line), lost the bidding for serialization rights for the book, so I asked Robert if he would write a series of blog posts detailing the issues covered by the book. Robert agreed, and I plan to run them every Friday for the next few weeks. Note that Robert’s blog on automated inventing, by the way, can be found here.

Here’s the first of the series:

Automatic Product Design and Its Impact on Patent Law

Inventors have long been using software to help them design new products. For example, computer-aided design (CAD) software enables engineers to draw three-dimensional models of the components of an automobile engine, and even to "connect" those components together to see how they will interact without needing to build physical prototypes.

Few people are aware that software now exists which can not only display product designs which have been drawn by a human engineer, but also create such designs itself. In addition, today's latest "artificial invention" software can simulate the operation of a new product -- such as an automobile engine -- evaluate its performance, and then refine the product design repeatedly to improve the end product. One example of such software -- Stephen Thaler's "Creativity Machine" -- has been called "Thomas Edison in a box." In my book, The Genie in the Machine, I describe the history of such technology and provide many real-world examples of the products it has been used to create -- everything from toothbrushes to antennas to the nosecone on the Japanese bullet train.

Artificial invention technology has the potential to enable us to create better products more quickly and inexpensively than ever before. Such software often produces designs that surprise expert human inventors, because software lacks the blindspots and prejudices that can stop human engineers from pursuing pathways that are fruitful but which contradict conventional wisdom. Businesses are already using invention automation software -- including evolutionary algorithms and artificial neural networks -- to slash their research and development costs.

Patent law has yet to grapple with the implications of computer-automated inventing. Yet it must do so if patent law is to continue promoting innovation. In my next blog entry, I will point out some of the challenges that artificial invention technology poses for patent law.

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