Artificial intelligence (AI) encompasses technologies that have become increasingly relevant — and strategically important — to companies of all sizes across a wide range of fields. For example, AI technologies such as computer vision are critical to the operation of autonomous vehicles and pick-and-place robots. Natural-language processing, speech recognition, and context awareness are core capabilities of any product or automated service that communicates by voice with end users. As more players crowd the AI space, aggressively and efficiently developing AI patent portfolios is an important consideration for start-ups and multinational corporations alike.
In the U.S., most AI technologies can be protected by a patent. But certain AI technologies can face increased scrutiny at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) with respect to whether the invention is directed to patent-eligible subject matter. The USPTO follows a two-step analysis to determine whether a patent claim is patent-eligible. First, the USPTO determines whether the patent claim is directed to a patent-eligible concept. Certain areas are not patent-eligible: abstract ideas, laws of nature, and natural phenomena. If a patent claim is directed to one of these concepts, the USPTO will next examine whether the claim as a whole amounts to “significantly more” than the aforementioned concepts, in which case the claim may still be patent-eligible.