WIPO Director General Gurry on Artificial Intelligence and Intellectual Property

June 18, 2019

A major Artificial Intelligence (AI)-related policy challenge is balancing the need for ever-increasing amounts of data to drive innovation in the AI field with potential property right claims to those data, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said Tuesday.

Director General Gurry speaks on AI and IP in London.

WIPO Director General Gurry speaks on AI and IP in London. (Photo: Jan Walter)

“Data is where our greatest challenges lie. We see the multiplicity of policy dimensions intersect around data," Mr. Gurry said in an opening address for the June 18-19, 2019, “AI: Decoding IP, Exploring the Commercial, Economic and Legal Implications” Conference hosted by the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) and WIPO.

Mr. Gurry noted that large amounts of digital information are a requirement for the advancement of AI, which uses those data for machine learning and other AI outputs. On the other hand, data may not be devoid of property rights.

“How do we reconcile the imperative of openness with innovation, on the one hand, with the desire or need of enterprises for closure at some point, and for a proprietary right at some point: This is the major … strategic and geopolitical question thrown up by AI: How you balance openness and closure,” he said.

Mr. Gurry noted findings contained in the WIPO Technology Trends 2019 – Artificial Intelligence Report showing that 340,000 patent applications related to AI have been filed since the 1950s – with more than 50 percent of those filings registered since 2013.

Mr. Gurry said that these findings indicate that the existing IP system, which in many respects is a creation of industrial tech from industrial age, has widespread applications to AI or is used on extensively in the digital age.

Still, the development of AI will create new areas of discussion in relation to the intellectual property system.

“The fundamental question is: What sort of IP policy settings will best favor the development of innovation in the field of AI, which seems to have promising economic and social benefits?”

Other questions requiring deliberation include: IP areas such as copyright and confidential information or trade secrets; and areas where AI technology might slip through the current IP system.

“And what about any gaps - areas of AI technology that fall through the cracks of the IP system? What are the appropriate innovation settings that we should have in respect of any such gaps?” he asked.

“Sooner or later, I think, we are going to need to develop at the international level answers to all of the policy questions that arise from the use of data with respect to artificial intelligence. And of course we are confronting this, I would say, imperative, at a time when the capacity of getting the international community to agree on anything is extremely limited, to say the least. So this is one of our biggest dilemmas,” he said.

“And for this reason we are particularly grateful to the United Kingdom for being so willing to engage multilaterally and internationally in these questions surrounding artificial intelligence and intellectual property and in the development of the formulation of the right questions, which ultimately are going to require an international answer.”

WIPO member state delegates and others will discuss AI during the “WIPO Conversation on Intellectual Property and Artificial Intelligence,” on September 27, 2019.

During his visit to the United Kingdom, Director General met with Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Chris Skidmore, Chief Executive and Comptroller General of the UKIPO Tim Moss and other officials, among other activities.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry meets Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Chris Skidmore
WIPO Director General Francis Gurry meets Minister of State for
Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Chris Skidmore
(Photo: WIPO/Fitzgerald)
From left to right: Libby Kinsey, Lead Technologist for MI and AI at Digital Catapult; Tim Moss, CEO of UK IPO; WIPO Director General Gurry; Jeremy Silver, CEO of Digital Catapult
From left to right: Libby Kinsey, Lead Technologist for MI and AI at Digital Catapult; Tim Moss, CEO of UK IPO; WIPO Director General Gurry; Jeremy Silver, CEO of Digital Catapult
(Photo: WIPO/Fitzgerald)