Should IBM's Watson AI join the patent trolls, or lead the rebellion against them?  (Source: LucasFilm, Ltd.)
The Strategic IP Insight Platform provides the perfect tool for finding prior art -- or potential victims

International Business Machines, Inc. (IBM) sets a high bar for future artificial intelligence machines.  With its powerful parallel software package DeepQA -- written in a mix of C++, Java, and Prolog -- IBM's Watson supercomputer learns, data mines, performs image analysis, processes natural language, and understands speech in a unified approach that eclipses the more humble machines that came before it.

Despite a very human flub, Watson put its powers on display on the game show Jeopardy, accruing $77,147 USD for the win in a match against the longest time Jeopardy champion -- Ken Jennings (who scored $24,000) -- and the biggest money winner on the show -- Brad Rutter (who scored $21,600).  The humans' loss led Ken Jennings to quip, "I for one welcome our new computer overlords."

I. Watson Enters the Patent Industry, Scouring Medical Patents

Now Watson is applying that same cold, masterful logic to the patent industry.  Dubbed the Strategic IP Insight Platform (SIIP), Watson's new software allows it to delve peer-reviewed literature and past patents and build a rich tapestry of what has been done before.  At the same time it's cataloging various firms, analyzing their intellectual property, products, and financials.

Ideally the patent industry is about coming up with truly novel, non-obvious solution, and seeing that solution protected so you can profit off your ingenuity.  While the concept of an "obvious" solution is the kind of sticky philosophical debate that may still be beyond the mighty AI's grasp, Watson can certainly tackle whether a patent is novel -- i.e. whether there is prior art that should overrule it.

Watson Jeopardy
Top Jeopardy player Ken Jennings acknowledge Watson as his superior on national television. 
[Image Source: NBC; Fair Use clause TITLE 17 > CHAPTER 1 > § 107]

In a demonstration of its power, Watson has 4.7 million patents and 11 million scientific journals published between 1976 and 2000.  In each article Watson carefully identified any previously unseen chemical compounds (in pictures or text), grabbed any related diagrams, grabbed relevant keywords, and lastly scooped up the author and company names.

The result was a database of 2.5 million compounds, which are thought by Watson to be unique.  For each of these compounds Watson discovered the earliest patentee.  IBM donated its superbot's work -- the "open chemistry" database -- to the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH), allowing scientists all over the world to dig into it.

Medical Compounds
Watson has identified 2.5 million unique medical compounds. 
[Image Source: FindMeACure; Fair Use clause TITLE 17 > CHAPTER 1 > § 107]

The work means that Watson has now implanted itself in both in the pharmaceutical industry, and the medical diagnostics business.  Previously, Watson teamed up with Wellpoint, Inc. (WLP) to given a patient's medical history and symptoms, to scour medical literature and provide probabilistic differential diagnoses of known maladies (as seen in series of ads).

II. Watson Could be Used as a "Nuclear" Weapon by Innovators and Trolls, Alike

Returning to SIIP, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and other large international patent offices might be wise to recruit Watson's expertise.  Sadly it is not uncommon these days for people to file, be granted, and even sue with patents on an idea that had already previously been patented by someone else.  Using Watson, the USPTO and its peers could cut down on redundant patents, protecting the original inventor.

But in the long term, the greater questions is whether Watson's capabilities will be applied for good or for evil.

Watson's SIIP can set to work scrounging up prior art, giving companies a powerful defense against patent trolls, saving potentially millions in fees to patent lawyers or experts whose findings would likely be less complete.  And SIIP also has the capability to assess which topics to target with research, assess undervalued companies with attractive IP worth acquiring, or similarly companies that could be valuable collaborators.

Those powerful abilities could potentially fall into the wrong hands and be used for "evil".  A patent troll (e.g. NTP or ex-Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) CTO Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures) could use Watson's data mining to assess companies' IP and financials, compiling a list of targets that would likely fall easy prey to a lawsuit and be forced to settle or license.

Cave Troll
Watson's IP prowess could be a powerful weapon for a patent troll looking to profit at the expense of innovation.
[Image Source: New Line Cinema; Fair Use clause TITLE 17 > CHAPTER 1 > § 107]

The battle between good and evil is in fact one that appears to go on at IBM itself.  With over 50,000 patents, IBM has 25 percent more patents than its next closest international rival -- Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KS:005930).  Many of those patents are novel in the very best sense possible.  Others, like IBM's patent on ignoring Lotus Notes seem pretty questionable.  Indeed, it's probably expected that IBM -- who filed for over 6,000 patents in 2010 -- would be a microcosm of the greater patent industry.

III. Next Generation Watson to "Think" -- But Know More Than Any Human Can

Looking ahead, IBM could see its products cast even deeper into the battle between "good" and "evil" in the patent industry.  While Watson cannot "think" like a human, IBM is working to make sure its successor can.  The company is developing neurosynaptic chips, which it looks to deploy in a cognitive-capable exascale (beyond petascale) computer within the next decade.

Terminators being produced
If you think Watson's current generation capabilities are impressive, its successor will be granted cognitive abilities, which will give it the ability to not only "out-know" its fleshy rivals, but "out-think" them as well.
[Image Source: Warner Brothers Pictures; Fair Use clause TITLE 17 > CHAPTER 1 > § 107]

For hardware fans out there, Watson packs ninety Power 750 four-socket server nodes, with a 3.5 GHz POWER7 octacore processor in each node.  That's a total of 2,880 CPUs (with four threads each, so 11,520 total threads).  

Paired to that is 16 TB of memory (about 182 GB per server) of RDIMM (registered DIMM, lower latency) memory and your typical networking, cluster, and I/O support nodes.

In order to win Jeopardy Watson only needed a modest 4 TB, which it stored its 200 million pages of relevant information in.

In related news, Watson has also gone to work selling its own capabilities and other IBM products, acting as a "smart" telemarketer.  During sales efforts, IBM is now using Watson as a qualified associate to answer tough questions customers might have -- a problem for under-qualified associates at your average business.

IBM recently scored legendary investor Warren Buffet, typically a staunch critic of tech firms, as an $10.7B USD major investor.  Perhaps Mr. Buffet was swayed by IBM's strong track record -- currently in its 101st year of business, IBM is the oldest of the large technology companies.

Source: SIIP

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