24 July 2024, 16:31
By Dids Macdonald Jun 28, 2024

AI – friend or foe of IP?

Intellectual property (IP) rights require permission for use, but AI drives a bullet train through traditional IP frameworks, and algorithms are the rocket fuel, perpetuating exponential momentum, writes Dids Macdonald OBE, the chair and founder of design rights champion, Anti Copying in Design (ACID) – so, what can be done about it?

In the furniture industry, AI has revolutionised design, prototyping, production and marketing, presenting opportunities, challenges and threats, particularly regarding IP issues. The current (as of the time of writing) Government’s stance involves a cross-sector, outcome-based framework for regulating AI, emphasising principles like safety, transparency, fairness, accountability and governance. However, without formal regulation or buy-in from Large Language Models (LLMs), managing these expectations remains a global challenge.

Recently published election manifestos showed both parties recognising AI’s transformative potential and the need for regulation, with Labour advocating strict oversight and public protection, while the Conservatives support a pro-innovation regulatory framework with international collaboration. Alternatively, the Liberal Democrat manifesto advocates for robust regulations on AI to ensure ethical use and transparency. They emphasise safeguarding IP rights while promoting innovation. The party seeks a balanced approach to foster technological advancement while protecting creators’ rights and public interests.

AI offers numerous opportunities for the furniture industry, amongst which are: enhanced design processes (AI can automate and optimise design processes, increasing efficiency and productivity – it aids designers in exploring innovative ideas, resulting in unique, creative solutions); improved IP protection (AI can help monitor and detect potential design infringements, enhancing IP protection – personalised design solutions can be developed through AI algorithms analysing user data, improving user experience); innovative collaboration (AI fosters collaboration between designers and AI systems, merging human creativity with machine intelligence to produce novel design solutions); and optimised production (AI streamlines production processes through automation and predictive maintenance).

However, several challenges arise, such as: digital asset protection (the digitisation of designs increases risks of unauthorised copying and distribution, requiring robust cybersecurity measures and updated IP laws to address AI-generated works); IP ownership and authorship (determining ownership and authorship of AI-generated designs is complex – clear legal frameworks are needed to address whether the developer, operator, or owning company holds rights, and, to date, the UK lags in addressing these issues); and compliance with standards (AI-generated designs must meet safety and quality standards, necessitating regular updates to standards and rigorous testing protocols).

Threats posed by AI include: IP theft and brand damage (the ease of copying and distributing digital designs threatens IP protection, allowing unauthorised parties to replicate and produce copycat products); potential for infringement (the use of AI technology in design processes increases the risk of unintentional infringement of existing design rights, as AI algorithms may unknowingly generate designs that are similar to protected designs – uncertainty about IP ownership of AI-generated designs has led to increased disputes between IP rights holders and AI providers);

ethical concerns (AI’s role in design raises ethical questions about replacing human designers and the potential loss of traditional craftsmanship – the legal landscape is still catching up, causing uncertainties and disputes over IP rights); legal framework complexity (clear regulations and guidelines surrounding the protection of design rights in the context of AI do not exist, making enforcement and protection of IP rights confusing – for example, 3D and 4D designs);

data privacy (AI systems require vast amounts of data, raising concerns about the privacy and security of sensitive design information); algorithm transparency (complex AI algorithms may lack transparency, making it difficult to understand and verify decisionmaking processes); and dependency on AI (heavy reliance on AI for design processes may make designers vulnerable to disruptions and failures in AI technology).

To harness AI’s benefits while mitigating its challenges and threats, the furniture industry must invest in robust cybersecurity measures to protect digital IP, as well as advocating for updated clear IP laws. Whichever party forms a new government, there is an agreement for a design consultation, and this is the industry’s opportunity to make its voice heard. Fostering collaboration between AI developers, designers and legal experts will help to navigate AI-generated IP complexities and prioritise ethical considerations, balancing technological innovation with human creativity and craftsmanship.

In conclusion, AI presents transformative opportunities for the furniture industry, but also significant challenges and threats, particularly in IP. By addressing these issues proactively and fostering a collaborative, ethical and collective approach, the industry can navigate this new era of innovation effectively. Signing the ACID IP Charter, which promotes IP respect, compliance and ethics, is one way to support this effort.

This article was featured in July's issue.


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