The WTO can play an important role in achieving the UN sustainable development goals. Investments in AI and IoT could go a long way, in that these technologies could lead to economic growth, innovation, good health, and new services. For this to happen, however, they must be adequately governed. This means, practically, that we need laws – and IP laws above all, given their role in incentivising creativity and innovation – that are fit for AI and IoT.
AI could lead to unprecedented research developments with revolutionary impact on healthcare. They would do so not only by changing the way we carry out research – with AI-powered data mining and cancer-predicting deep learning models – but also by making us rethink certain IP laws. The reference is to the patent system that has hitherto been abused by pharmaceutical companies that have developed strategies to retain perpetual and absolute monopolies on medical inventions, thus preventing access to medicines, especially in developing and least-developed countries.
AI could change this. It could, indeed, change the standard currently applied to assess one of the key requirements for patentability, i.e. inventive step. We currently assess if an invention presupposes an inventive step and is hence patentable from the point of view of the ‘person skilled in the art’, a notional worker who lacks ingenuity and has limited knowledge. With AI becoming commonplace and increasingly creative, the new standard to be adopted may and should be the AI-enhanced researcher. Such a person would be more likely to consider new inventions as obvious and this would counter the over-protection of pharmaceutical inventions.
Finally, the IoT is set to disrupt all the fields and all the laws that have been built on the good-product and hardware-software dichotomy. Patent laws are likely to be profoundly impacted – and may need a significant revision – because their exclusion from patentability of software may be factually circumvented by the ubiquitous presence of software in any mundane device and at any step of the supply chain.
To conclude, IP laws are likely to play a limited role in governing AI and the IoT. It seems more probable that these technologies will ‘govern’ current IP laws in the sense of leading to new interpretation and policies that will make them more ‘sustainability-friendly’.
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