Can You Patent an Algorithm in the UK?
An algorithm may be a valuable invention, but it is not obvious that it is patentable. Often, patenting requires confidentiality, which may not be possible if the algorithm is proprietary. If this is the case, the law of trade secrets may be a better option. UK common law has long regulated the protection of confidential information, so it is likely that the scope of available protection has not changed significantly since the Trade Secrets Directive. In addition, UK courts are well-established in their confidentiality procedures.
Identifying technical contributions to a patent application
An inventor may not be eligible for a patent if others made substantial technical contributions to the invention. An inventor, however, may be an employee or consultant who is credited with a technical contribution. Patents are awarded to people who invented and created new products and processes. Whether someone is credited with an invention depends on the degree of contribution he or she made. Some types of technical contributions include:
If two or more people are involved in a project, it is common to have ambiguity over who invented what. To determine who made what, INVO can hire an outside patent attorney. The patent attorney will ask the contributors to describe their contributions. These contributions must be supported by objective evidence, such as notebook pages or other tangible evidence. It is very difficult to claim joint inventorship in such circumstances. For example, a contributor may have contributed to a certain step of the process by providing instructions for a step.
In addition to the names of the contributors, the patent office will also need to know who interpreted the data. The names of the contributors need not be listed in order, but they should be included in the patent application. Providing their names will help ensure that everyone involved in a project gets credit for their work. However, it is best to include the names of collaborators and supervisors, rather than co-inventors. This way, the patent office will know who made the invention.
An individual who makes substantial technical contributions to a patent application can be named as a co-inventor. It is not uncommon for two people to make contributions to a single patent application. This is especially true if the first person provided the entire idea and the second member followed the instructions. If all team members make substantial contributions to the invention, they should be credited as co-inventors. If the second person is listed as a co-inventors, a patent may be issued jointly.
Obtaining patent protection
The EPO and the UKIPO have different rules on software patents. In the UK, patents cannot be granted for an algorithm that involves non-invented subject matter, and the UKIPO does not grant patents for such inventions. Obtaining patent protection for an algorithm may be a more complicated process than it looks. But if you follow the right procedure, you could get it.
Using the law of trade secrets to protect an algorithm is also a good option. A valuable algorithm may have to remain confidential. In this case, UK courts provide confidentiality protection for the creator. However, the scope of the protection available is not likely to change substantially. The UK courts follow well-established procedures to ensure confidentiality. The UK Patents Office also has a good reputation in granting patents for algorithms.
One important case that affects the validity of an algorithm is Fujitsu Limited v Telco and Macrossan’s Application. In this case, the judge confirmed that the claimed algorithm must be a technical contribution to make it patentable. This case has implications for UK patent law, but the UK courts should not overrule the EPO’s decisions. Similarly, a recent decision in Symbian Limited v Comptroller General of Patents confirmed that the ‘claim’ must be based on a technical contribution to make it patentable.
The process of obtaining patent protection for an algorithm in the UK is complicated. The patent laws exclude programs written in software. Although software patents are still controversial, they have some merit. Nevertheless, they are not yet widespread, and the UK Patent Act requires the creation of a patent for any invention. Despite this, the definition of an invention is ambiguous and often a matter of debate.
Enforcing AI patents
While AI-related technologies are rapidly growing across the globe, in the UK, these technologies are still relatively young. The proportion of AI patents filed in the UK is roughly half of what it is globally. AI-related patents have the potential to affect a variety of industries, including health, transport, image processing, telecommunications, and finance. For this reason, it is crucial to understand the legal environment surrounding AI-related technologies before developing a strategy to enforce them.
The UK government is currently conducting a consultation on AI and IP. In the future, they will look to introduce a new form of intellectual property right to protect AI-devised inventions. Such a policy would be in line with the UK government’s national AI strategy. It would also encourage the development of AI and its use across the UK economy. It is a step in the right direction, especially for AI-devised inventions.
The UK government has commissioned an independent report on artificial intelligence. The Hall & Pesenti report recommends a series of changes to improve AI inventions and increase their commercial potential. One recommendation is that universities should take an active role in seeking to commercialise AI inventions, while another is to develop standards for spin-out activities and encourage corporate investors to invest in these technologies at an earlier stage. This report is an important first step in making the UK a world-class AI hub.
The UK’s divergence from the EU is one of the main obstacles facing growing companies in the UK. As an example, the UK government has decided that blanket regulation of AI is not appropriate. This legislation is likely to impact a broad range of products. The UK government will continue to engage in shaping the international AI standards for this technology. It is also important to monitor developments in the UK data protection framework.