from the all-regulatory-comments-are-now-chatgpt's-opinion dept
You may recall that, back during the last net neutrality open comment period, the FCC’s comment system was overrun by millions of faked comments, including from many dead people. Not surprisingly, it was eventually determined that legacy broadband companies funded the fake comment submissions, which they felt they needed to do because actual activists were actually effective in getting the public to speak out in favor of net neutrality.
But of course, now we live in the “age of generative AI,” and it’s worth wondering just how that’s going to impact all of this. Amusingly, there are already academic journals suggesting that the government should sort and maybe even respond to regulatory open comments using AI as a tool.
But what about commenters themselves using AI to generate the comments in question?
We just recently wrote about how the US Patent Office is seeking comments on a dangerously problematic plan to make it much harder to kill bad patents by reforming the IPR (inter partes review) process to allow the patent director to just flat out reject challenges for certain classes of inventors, including many patent trolls. In that post, we linked to an EFF page urging people to send in their own comments against this proposal. But, really, the EFF is just linking people directly to the page on the Federal Register where you can comment. While they suggest some language, on the whole they expect users to write their own comment.
It appears the patent trolls who want this change have decided to use AI.
A few folks forwarded me copies of an email they received from “US Inventor” which is, effectively, a lobbying trade group for patent trolls, telling their members to submit a comment, and pointing them to an app on Streamlit. I’ll note that the email is ridiculous:
As you may know, the 2011 America Invents Act (AIA) created the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB). The PTAB is a nonjudicial administrative tribunal within the USPTO. The sole purpose of this court is to invalidate the same patents the USPTO previously granted, thus, creating a dictatorial power for the USPTO Director over America’s most important property right.
The statistics tell the truth about the destruction the PTAB has caused for inventors, small business owners, and startups. A staggering 69% of trials resulted in all claims being unpatentable, with an additional 15% leading to some claims being unpatentable. In total, 84% of patents reviewed by the PTAB result in the cancellation of claims.
I mean, no, as the Supreme Court itself made clear, just as the US PTO can grant a patent, so too can they review it, and then revoke it, if they realize they made a mistake. That’s not “dictatorial power.” And, let’s not even get started on the idea that patents are “America’s most important property right.” I mean, people with brains read this. Don’t insult them.
As for the second paragraph, a normal person would read that and think, wow, it sure looks like the IPR process that enables the PTAB to review patents is pretty damn important since it appears to be catching a very large number of mistakenly granted patents, which would otherwise gum up the work of actual innovation by blocking innovators from bringing products to market.
Because, remember, if the patent is a good, valid, patent, then the PTAB will not cancel claims. The only reason the PTAB cancels claims is if they are bad claims that should not have been granted in the first place, and would create an innovation-destroying monopoly power to block products that should be on the market. So even in this email, the troll lobby is effectively admitting that their real problem with the IPR/PTAB process is that it’s getting rid of their bad patent claims, that never should have been granted.
Anyway, the email sends people to a form that says will help you craft a comment. They don’t say it’s using AI, but it is.
You put in a link to a bio or a LinkedIn profile, some “information about you or your company” and then it generates a pro-patent troll argument for you. It gives you three attempts to do this.
The person who forwarded me the email also tried generating the letters, using the LinkedIn addresses of random people, and the “comments” it generated… were clearly just using AI to read someone’s LinkedIn bio to add some “pro-patent color” at the beginning, then some random AI-generated nonsense in the middle, before appending the identical text at the end of the comment.
Sometimes, the results are (in true generative AI fashion) total gibberish. One of the samples I saw definitely attacked the PTAB, but not for the IPR process. Instead, one claimed that the PTAB was changing claims to appear even broader than the inventor meant (which, um, is not happening).
Of course, the end of each of the “generated” comments is identical, and appears to be pre-filled in the comment generator app. No matter what information you put into the generator, at the end it pushes specific “policy alterations” that the submitter (who did not write the comment) claims should be considered.
Now, there’s an argument that making it easier to generate stronger comments during public comment periods might be a good thing in general. Having read some terrible comments submitted by the public, I could see some general value in letting people scribble in their general thoughts (like they normally submit) and having a tool turn it into something more substantive and useful. But… it also likely means that open comment systems for the federal government are even more likely to be overrun with questionable comments, probably many of which were not even generated by humans.
And that seems like it could be problematic for the overall process of regulatory bodies seeking public comments in the first place.