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UK considers IP and regulatory reform for AI age

Out-Law News | 01 Oct 2021 | 2:21 pm | 2 min. read

Changes to intellectual property (IP) laws to account for the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) systems will be proposed by the UK government before the end of the year, while an overhaul of the approach to regulating AI in the UK is also under government consideration.

Details of the government’s thinking on the issues were set out in its recently published national AI strategy.

The strategy is based on three assumptions. First, that progress, discovery and strategic advantage in AI depends on access to people, data, compute and finance. Second, that AI “will become mainstream in much of the economy” and that action is needed to ensure every sector and region of the UK benefits from that. Third, that the UK’s governance and regulatory regimes need to “keep pace with the fast-changing demands of AI”.

On IP, the government confirmed that it will formally consult on possible changes to UK patent and copyright law later this year. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) trailed some of the changes that could be implemented earlier this year, which include updating the Patents Act 1977 to make it possible to obtain a patent for an AI-generated invention in the UK – an issue the Court of Appeal recently considered.

“The consultation, on copyright areas of computer generated works and text and data mining, and on patents for AI devised inventions, will be launched before the end of the year so that the UK can harness the opportunities of AI to further support innovation and creativity,” the government said in the new strategy paper.

The government said it is also reviewing its policy approach to the regulation of AI. In 2018 it said “blanket AI-specific regulation” was “inappropriate” at that stage and instead embraced a sector-specific approach to regulating the use of the technology. However, it has now said that “now is the time to decide whether our existing approach remains the right one”.

One of the possible options that could be pursued is the introduction of “additional cross-sector principles or rules, specific to AI, to supplement the role of individual regulators to enable more consistency across existing regimes”, according to the new national AI strategy.

The government confirmed that the Office for AI will develop the national position on governing and regulating AI and that this will be articulated “in early 2022”.

“The white paper will set out the government’s position on the potential risks and harms posed by AI technologies and our proposal to address them,” the government said.

A draft Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act), if implemented, would introduce specific, risk-based, rules for AI into EU law, which no longer applies in the UK following Brexit. It was published by the European Commission in April 2021.

Other actions outlined in the UK’s national AI strategy include plans for the development of a new national strategy for AI in health and social care, a draft of which is set to be published early next year.

The strategy paper recognises that AI can be used to solve real world problems. To that end, the government confirmed that it is considering how the potential of AI could be built into ‘innovation missions’ – a term coined in the UK’s innovation strategy to describe projects that bring together the public and private sector to deliver clearly defined outcomes in response to pressing national and global challenges. This, it said, could include missions focused on achieving ‘net zero’ emissions within the UK economy and beyond.

The government said that it will set out a plan to execute the strategy “in the near future” and “will put mechanisms in place to monitor and assess progress” too.