Earlier this year, the EPO hosted its first conference on patenting Artificial Intelligence (AI). Following that conference, the new EPO Guidelines (due to come into force from 1 November 2018) include a new section dedicated to patentability of AI (section G-II-3.3.1).
The Guidelines clarify that AI is categorized as a mathematical method. Therefore, the patentability of AI follows the same approach employed for mathematical methods.
There are two main hurdles to overcome to patent a mathematical method:
1) The mathematical method must have technical character; and
2) The mathematical method must contribute to producing a technical effect that serves a technical purpose.
The new EPO Guidelines clarify that AI may be patentable if directed to a specific technical purpose and/or a specific technical contribution. Specific examples of patentable AI are provided in the quote below taken from the new EPO Guidelines.
It will be interesting to see how the new Guidelines are employed in practice. I expect the EPO will carry out further updates and reforms in the future to deal with the remaining challenges concerning patenting AI inventions.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning find applications in various fields of technology. For example, the use of a neural network in a heart-monitoring apparatus for the purpose of identifying irregular heartbeats makes a technical contribution. The classification of digital images, videos, audio or speech signals based on low-level features (e.g. edges or pixel attributes for images) are further typical technical applications of classification algorithms. Classifying text documents solely in respect of their textual content is however not regarded to be per se a technical purpose but a linguistic one (T 1358/09).