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Who Profits From AI? It’s Getting Harder to Find Out

  • U.S. rejects many artificial intelligence patent applications
  • Investors are pouring billions into AI-related startups
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Photographer: Ben Torres/Bloomberg

As companies from IBM to Samsung Electronics Co. to Halliburton Co. scramble to find the next great invention using artificial intelligence, they may hit a roadblock when trying to patent their ideas.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is making it increasingly difficult to obtain legal protections for inventions related to AI, a field that encompasses autonomous cars, virtual assistants and financial analyses, among countless other uses. The agency, seeing an influx of AI applications, is grappling with how to comply with a law that PTO Director Andrei Iancu has called “anything but clear” concerning what can be patented.