The UK High Court recently issued a landmark ruling on 21 November 2023, in the case of Time Machine Capital Squared (TMC2) and its subsidiary, Emotional Perception AI Limited vs Comptroller General of Patents.
This case revolves around the patentability of Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) and essential part of AI technology. ANNs are created and designed to provide users of technology with a sentient-like experience with outputs that mimic human behaviour as closely as possible. This is commonly referred to as Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The decision by the High Court changes the law in the UK for the AI industry by establishing that both the training of artificial neural networks “ANNs” and ANNs themselves are patentable and thus subject to monopolistic rights in the UK.
The original legislation was written in the early 1970s at a point when computer and computer programs were functionally limited. There has subsequently been some evolution in the law on how to deal with modern-day computer-implemented inventions, but for new disruptive technologies appropriate interpretation of the law requires the law to be tested and developed to reflect modern-day technologies.
This resulted in the court establishing that an ANN is considered a functional entity, irrespective of whether it’s implemented in hardware or software. Claims to an ANN itself or methods of training an ANN were deemed viable under UK patent legislation. This ruling clarifies that the implementation details (hardware or software) are irrelevant as long as the invention possesses an external technical effect.
The court also challenged the UK Intellectual Property Office’s (UKIPO) previous approach, emphasizing the importance of identifying the right level of generality when assessing technical contributions and that the focus should be on the actual technical effects achieved, rather than superficially dismissing the technical contributions based on physical effects.
This decision holds significance for the AI industry and challenges previous UKIPO guidelines on AI patent guidelines. The High Court’s decision expands the scope of patentability for ANNs, providing clarity on their status as patentable entities and challenging conventional views on computer programme exclusions. The ruling encourages a more pragmatic and reasonable approach to patent protection for AI in the UK, that will lead to additional funding opportunities and give greater impetus to investors and innovators in the space.