Last week, we commenced our (quasi-) serialization of Robert Plotkin’s book, The Genie in the Machine: How Computer-Automated Inventing is Revolutionizing Law and Business.  Here, as promised, is part 2 in the series.

Automated Inventing: The Challenge for Patent Law

As I explained in my previous entry, increasingly powerful computer software is being used to automate the process of inventing. Since such software takes a wide variety of forms, I use the term "artificial invention technology" to refer to all of it. Patent law was originally developed in a time when all inventing was performed manually. Now, however, patent law must be ready to deal with attempts to patent artificial invention technology and the inventions it produces.

In my book, The Genie in the Machine, I explain how patent law can be updated to face this challenge. To give a flavor of how patent law needs to be reformed, let me start by explaining the meaning of the book’s title. You can view a computer that is equipped with artificial invention software as a kind of artificial genie. A human inventor can provide such a computer with an abstract description of a problem that he or she wants to solve — such as creating a toothbrush that can whiten teeth more efficiently than previous toothbrushes. This description, which must be written in a language that the artificial genie can understand, is like a wish for a better toothbrush. The artificial invention software (i.e., the genie) uses this artificial wish to create a computer model of an improved toothbrush — the wish come true. In some cases, the product itself can be manufactured automatically based on the digital design.

In short, the basic pattern described above can be represented by the following simple diagram:

Human Inventor –> Wish –> Artificial Invention Technology –> Wish Come True (Product Design)

This exposes very clearly the questions that patent law must be prepared to answer, namely whether — and under which circumstances — each of the following should be patentable:

– Artificial "wishes" (the input that a human inventor provides to artificial invention technology to create a new product design)
– Artificial invention technology (the computer hardware and software that can create new product designs automatically)
– Wishes come true (product designs created using artificial invention technology)

In my next blog entry I will give a flavor for how patent law can be updated to answer these questions.