Elon Musk’s Neuralink and the Brain-Machine Interface Patent LandscapeMay 5, 2022

Neuralink is a brain-machine interface (BMI) company purchased in 2016 by Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, Space X and Hyperloop. The company is developing an “ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interface”, essentially a network of tiny electrodes linked to a user’s brain that allows the user to communicate wirelessly with the world. The company envisions that its technology will give a user’s brain the ability to communicate wirelessly with the cloud, with computers, and with the brain of anyone with a similar implant. Eventually, in Musk’s words, the “technology will evolve into a kind of complete brain interface, which will allow for ‘symbiosis’ between humans and Artificial Intelligence”. (See Urban, Tim; “Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future”).

Tim Urban describes future uses of Neuralink: “Your car (or whatever people use for transportation at that point) will pull up to your house and your mind will open the car door. You’ll walk up to the house and your mind will unlock and open the front door (all doors at that point will be built with sensors to receive motor cortex commands). You’ll think about wanting coffee and the coffee maker will get that going. As you head to the fridge the door will open and after getting what you need it’ll close as you walk away. People will play the piano with their thoughts. And do building construction. And steer vehicles.” (See above).

Neuralink has made impressive recent advancements. In August 2020, the company demonstrated its brain implant technology in pigs and in 2021, revealed a monkey with the implant trained to play a computer game with its mind. The company continues to make advancements by enhancing the longevity of its brain interface chip and improving the speed of decoding neural spikes, both areas in which Neuralink has recently published patent applications.

Meanwhile, several competing companies have threatened Neuralink’s dominance of the technology space, including Synchron, Paradromics, and Inbrain. Neuralink has been granted twelve (12) patents, Synchron six (6), and Paradromics nine (9). Notably, Inbrain licenses all of its technology. While Synchron was the first to secure FDA human trial approval, Neuralink has the most patent assets in its class and is likely to receive FDA approval for human trials within the year. While Neuralink has a small edge over its competitors, particularly in the AI space, the company will need to continue innovating to stay ahead.

Neuralink’s AI-augmented devices generally fall into one of four categories available for claiming, including: (1) implanted medical devices adapted to stimulate and record neurochemical activity; (2) software to facilitate control of the device and the brain; (3) methods for treating neurological impairments and (4) methods for communicating thoughts between human brains.

One of the most intriguing possibilities (in the distant future) is the development of a device that enables direct thought communication between two or more persons, bypassing traditional forms of human communication, such as speech or text-messaging. An implanted medical device adapted to perform these functions should be patentable. But what about the method of directly communicating thoughts between brains? Such a method claim could be drafted by reciting how the implanted, medical device communicates with another device, limiting the method claim to the steps the devices perform. Claims of this type should be patentable.

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