The Future of Intellectual Property

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The Future of Intellectual Property

In recent years, many new technologies have posed challenges for intellectual property (IP) laws. The rate at which new technologies are developed continues to accelerate, and it is hard to avoid the sense that many recent innovations are already on the precipice of changing our lives in significant ways.

The implications for IP could be significant, and already, debates are underway as to how new technologies will affect the IP landscape. In many cases, the creation of new media demands a response from IP laws to determine which existing rules still apply, and to ensure that existing assets remain under effective protection. In others, the changing ways in which assets are used has shown that some IP regulations are no longer suitable, and suggested a need for reforms.

Here, the IP experts at JMW discuss the topics that will dominate the intellectual property conversation over the next few years, assessing the current state of affairs and the IP regulations that currently apply, and predicting how these might develop in the near future.

Artificial Intelligence

The growing role of artificial intelligence (AI) in almost every sector has raised a wealth of IP concerns, and the fast development of these technologies means that regulations must be quick to react. In some cases, changes have already been made; for example, the UK recently modified its copyright laws, creating an exception to copyright protection for the purposes of text and data mining. This allows AI developers to use copyright-protected material, including databases, written works and other assets, for the purpose of machine learning.

New AI systems are trained to recognise patterns using large volumes of data, and by removing restrictions on the information that developers can access, the aim is to accelerate the development process.

However, this raises concerns when it comes to generative AI products like ChatGPT or DALL-E. These systems are able to create text and images, respectively, in response to user prompts, and draw from a wealth of existing material in order to achieve this. What makes this complicated from an intellectual property perspective is that these pieces of software generate content largely autonomously, meaning that the author - and therefore, the copyright owner - is sometimes hard to identify.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) held a consultation in 2019 about the IP concerns surrounding AI, and the discussion about legal matters related to AI-generated content is ongoing. However, as it stands, the WIPO contends that the copyright owner in these cases should be the human being who is in control of the AI system. This means that, in most cases, the user who inputs a prompt is considered to own the copyright to the resulting output; but there are other complications that affect this designation.

When these systems are trained on copyright-protected material, the content they generate is based on this source material. Discussions about whether or not this amounts to plagiarism or copyright infringement are ongoing, but conclusions will need to be drawn quickly. These tools are increasingly prominent and it is vital for the WIPO and other IP authorities to offer guidance in order to protect the integrity of copyright. In cases where AI-generated content largely reproduces existing material, where does the copyright ownership really lie?

It is unlikely that this matter will be completely resolved in the near future, and given that these systems will become more advanced in their ability to generate content, it is likely that this topic will remain at the forefront of IP discussions for the foreseeable future. The law will need to keep up with AI developments, and meet the technology in a place that protects the authorship rights of artists without stifling innovation.


Taking the wider view, the future of intellectual property will be tied to the concerns of the present and the pursuit of innovative solutions. For example, patents will be a vital legal mechanism to support innovation in sustainability, the need for which becomes more urgent with each passing year. The solutions to our environmental challenges must lie in technology, and patents can act as incentive for investment. They can also work to formalise an idea and turn it into an asset, making a strong business case that supports our need for development.

On the other hand, we recently saw debate arise about the nature of intellectual property rights as they pertained to COVID-19 vaccines. Does the need for a solution to a global threat override the intellectual property rights of the technology’s owner? If so, what could this mean for environmentally friendly and sustainable technologies, given that they are addressing an equally urgent global challenge? We expect to see significant debate around this topic over the next few years, and probably some degree of reform to the ways in which patents and other IP protections are currently managed.

This will not demand the same urgency as AI, but it is important for stakeholders to engage in this discussion. Building a framework for IP as it relates to sustainability could be an opportunity to encourage collaboration and support innovation without cutting off access to vital tools.

If your business needs support with intellectual property matters - whether because you are working in an emerging field, or simply because you want to ensure that your brand assets, inventions and other works are suitably protected - get in touch with the team at JMW Solicitors today. We are renowned as one of the leading intellectual property practices in the UK, so call us on 0345 872 6666, or fill in our online enquiry form to request a call back.

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