Many start-up companies are developing artificial intelligence (AI) innovations, from AI-driven drug discovery to AI-based fruit harvesting. Many of these companies protect their AI inventions by filing patent applications. (Read more on how to protect software innovation.)
When a patent application is filed at the UK Intellectual Patent Office (UK IPO), much of the processing of that patent application is performed by humans. A UK IPO Examiner reads the patent application to understand the invention described, and uses search tools to find publicly available documents describing inventions that may affect the patentability of the invention at issue. The search tools may be AI-based. However, once the Examiner has identified these documents, they will analyse these in detail themselves to determine if any of the documents are relevant, and will prepare a detailed report setting out their legal reasoning.
This largely human process means that it can take some time to obtain feedback from a Patent Office on the novelty and inventiveness of an invention described in a patent application. For example, we typically receive the UK IPO’s search and examination report within six months of requesting it. Patent Offices around the world are trialling and testing new AI tools that may help to speed up the process, but the nature of patent applications makes this a difficult task.
For start-ups, their brand is often as important as their technological innovation, and protecting their brand via a trade mark filing programme is essential. (Read more on how to protect trade marks.) Generally speaking, it is quicker to obtain a registered trade mark than a granted patent. However, a new AI tool designed to speed-up the trade mark registration process may help innovative start-ups to quickly determine, at an early stage, whether their brand can be protected via trade mark registrations.
The UK IPO has launched a new “pre-apply tool” which uses AI to:
(a) Identify the goods and services for which you may want to protect your trade mark for
(b) Let you check if there are any earlier trade marks that are similar to your trade mark and could potentially cause a conflict, and
(c) Identify whether aspects of your trade mark may not be registrable (e.g. protected symbols, offensive words etc.)
The UK IPO is following in the footsteps of many other Intellectual Property Offices. For example, IP Australia uses machine learning-based image searching to determine if a logo matches any existing registered logo trade marks. (View a list of the IP offices that use AI.)
The new UK IPO tool is still under development but has been released as a public beta version – usage of the beta version may help to train and improve the underlying AI algorithm.
The AI element is particularly relevant to points (b) and (c) noted above. Firstly, AI-enabled checks will give an indication of possible objections which may be raised by a trade mark examiner against your trade mark application. Secondly, AI-based searches will look for similar trade marks which may potentially conflict with the trade mark in your application. The tool provides a list of results, where the results are ranked by the perceived similarity with your brand (which may be a logo, a word or slogan, or a combination of words and images) and any existing registered trade marks.
This new tool is a useful and perhaps cost-saving first step for any start-up seeking to protect their brand. However, even if the tool identifies existing registered trade marks that are similar to your brand or potential objections which you may face when you file your application, you do not necessarily need to immediately begin a rebranding exercise. This is where speaking to a trade mark attorney will be helpful. Indeed, we would be happy to advise you based on the results outputted by the tool. We can also help you to select the appropriate classes, and list of goods and services, for your trade mark, and will monitor any official deadlines that arise after filing the trade mark application so that you do not miss any important dates.