Do you see artificial intelligence in economics? Ask the trademark office
The consortium has a clean slate in front of it, as it looks for ways to bring together more than 200 companies and organizations working on developing advanced artificial intelligence systems.
What indicators might help monitor the pulse of AI within the economy? One approach might be to start with another branch of the Commerce Department – the US Patent and Trademark Office. A look at its records provides a range of data that can get a sense of how deeply AI is flowing through the economy right now.
This may not be the most attractive analogy, but the newly named US Agency for International Cooperation (USAISI) could look to some alternative sources of information. Consider how wastewater monitoring has become a tool for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to detect the presence of coronavirus (COVID-19) and other viruses. An easy-to-follow chart on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website explains that people “with certain infections (such as COVID-19) can shed bits of the virus or bacteria when they use the bathroom, shower, wash hands, or wash clothes, even If they have no symptoms” in the sewer system. This data can be used to detect and report infections in the community.
One way to measure the importance of a term in the business world is to see how many people jump in to register trademarks for that product.
The Trademark Office can show what is happening and what is expected to happen in the flow of commerce. There is a flood of activity for AI services of every kind: speech recognition, natural language, banking, financial services, research consulting, weather forecasting, automotive; Information processing and personalization of information about how products are made (tailored clothing and sizes), “smart textiles”, and prepared meals designed using artificial intelligence. Goods created with the help of artificial intelligence, but not like cars cars created with artificial intelligence.
Likewise, activity at the US Trademark Office can indicate the number of ways companies are using terms in a particular field.
Before 2016, there were fewer than 700 brands using the term “AI.” It is not surprising that today we find 50,000 pending applications and existing registrations using these words. But here’s another news flash: it’s not just about software-related products and services.
Companies are registering clothing that contains artwork created by artificial intelligence.
There are skincare products that are created by artificial intelligence or created by artificial intelligence algorithms.
All kinds of companies outside the field of AI programming and hardware may claim to have products and services that incorporate AI. This is not yet reflected in trademark office records, which are often a reflection of companies’ plans. While an enormous amount of attention has been devoted to the benefits and problems of AI, AI as a whole has so far barely dipped its toe into the economic waters. It’s too early.
The wastewater application/branding analogy is far from perfect (and I’m pretty sure this is the first time this sentence has ever been written). Companies are falling in love with the process of creating names (and AI is seeking to take over this process as well), and would love nothing more than to come up with a great name. But often, companies do not file applications with the US Patent and Trademark Office for these names. This is especially true for startups that either lack experience with the practice of filing or don’t want to bear the relatively modest — but nonetheless real — fees that come with the process. Some companies like to keep their plans secret from the prying eyes of competitors, especially larger, more well-funded competitors.
Often, trademark attorneys point out that the benefits of registration outweigh these concerns. For example, if the trademark is not yet in use, the only way to try to claim the company’s right to own and use the mark is to file an application with the trademark office.
At present, there are approximately 2,000 trademark applications filed in the US Patent and Trademark Office that request the use of the term “artificial intelligence” as part of their mark.
There is no doubt that applications that may not use “AI” in their name, but contain AI services, have moved to the forefront of trademark applications. In 2016, there were fewer than 700 apps that used AI words in their recitation of goods and services. These numbers essentially doubled from 2017 to 2018, and by 2020 there were more than 4,500 pending applications and registrations listing AI among goods and services. As of the end of last year, 2023, that number has nearly doubled again, to nearly 8,000.
There were over 4,500 travel mug brands in 2020. That’s the same number we saw that year for AI. The numbers are very small.
Most likely, no one is surprised by any of this. But when we put it in context, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s measurement tells us that the raw numbers don’t reveal an epidemic of uses. We can find out by comparing AI to other types of products that people are trying to register. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, let’s start with an old saying – the word “chocolate.” There are over 65,000 current and past trademark applications that apply to “chocolate” products. The word “computer?” Hundreds of thousands of brands.
“Hotel” at 70,000. Even the humble “frame” has been mentioned in more than 50,000 trademark applications or registrations filed over time. Sweatshirts: 273,000. Car seats: 10,000. Wine: 158,000. If you’re a beer fan, you’ll know that there are slightly fewer current or past trademark registrations or beer applications: 141,000. What about good old-fashioned pencil marks? Up to nearly 100,000 of these.
The number of applications and registrations that include the word “Internet” has begun to approach half a million. In 1999, just before the “catastrophic” crash that we all remember, the number of applications including “Internet” between goods and services in 1999 reached 5,800. Perhaps unexpectedly for Y2K, humanity’s survival saw the number of applications citing “the Internet” rise to 16,000 the following year. Perhaps these numbers also indicate that we should expect an explosion in requests for AI products and services.
Signals from the Trademark Office only detect relatively small numbers of AI marks in the pipeline at the moment. This indicates that a tidal wave is coming. Using trademark office records as a predictor, little saw the boom, barely, barely I started.
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(tags for translation) AI Safety Institute Consortium