Navigating the Patent Landscape for Living Machines: The Case of Xenobots

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In recent years, genetic editing has led to the development of a few artificial species, even though people have long used agriculture to manipulate organisms for their own gain. Since it is the first time to construct “whole biological machines from the ground up,” this discovery is groundbreaking. 

This groundbreaking study combines stem cell and artificial intelligence technology. A new life form known as Xenobots, which are tiny robots produced from the cells of the African clawed frog Xenopus laevis, has been created by scientists in the United States. Xenobots are formed of 500–1000 live cells and are less than 1mm long. They are also thought to be the world’s first living machines. 

Table of Contents

Introduction  

As the first self-replicating robots and the first living machines, Xenobots have recently garnered public attention. The University of Vermont (UVM) and Tufts University’s Centre for Regenerative and Developmental Biology collaborated on Xenobots.  

The team created and modeled the design of the bots, first, using the Deep Green supercomputer cluster at UVM and evolutionary techniques. In essence, the team developed bots that were tailored for the task under study through a process of trial and error. In a process akin to natural selection, the team rejected concepts that performed poorly while re-testing and improving outstanding designs. The UVM researchers selected a few ideal models for their trial and then forwarded the information to the Tufts scientists.  

African frog stem cells were cultivated, gathered, and put together using forceps and electrodes to create the UVM design. Xenobots, which are millimeter-sized automatons developed utilizing a “top-down” approach that includes surgically shaping frog skin and heart cells to produce mobility, was created as a result. Surprisingly, these robots can cooperate and repair whatever damages they may have.  

Instead of mimicking people or animals, the algorithm simply looked for the best design to achieve its objective. There have been numerous Xenobot iterations, each with more sophisticated features. 

Version: Xenobots 2.0 

This version’s key characteristics include a body that self-assembles from a single cell, faster movement, and a longer lifespan. They are capable of navigating a variety of situations. The “Xenobots” are made of stem cells taken from Xenopus laevis, an African frog, and allowed to self-assemble and grow into spheroids, where some of the cells divide to produce cilia, which are tiny projections that resemble hairs. 

The new spheroidal bots include cilia instead of manually molded heart cells, which allow Xenobots to move about with rhythmic contractions. This allows them to travel quickly across a surface. To help move germs and other foreign material out of mucosal surfaces, such as those in the lungs of frogs, and humans, cilia are typically present. They are now used for propulsion in Xenobots. 

A crucial aspect of robotics is the ability to store memories and use those memories to modify the robot’s actions and behavior. Researchers from Tufts University utilized the fluorescent reporter protein EosFP, which usually emits green light. However, when exposed to light with a 390 nm wavelength, the protein emits red light. 

The development of this molecular memory proof of principle could lead to the detection and recording of not only light, but also radioactive contaminants, chemical pollutants, drugs, or illness conditions. 

The 2.0 generation of Xenobots are superb self-healers and can close the bulk of a significant full-length cut half their thickness within 5 minutes of being hurt. All of the hurt bots eventually recovered from their wounds, got back into form, and went back to doing what they had been doing. 

Version: Xenobots 3.0 

Kinematic replication is the key component of this version. The most important part of this development is that tiny Xenobots can reproduce and are now thought of as living robots. It is without a doubt a turning event in the history of AI and robotics development. The reproductive capabilities of Xenobots 3.0 are distinct from those of other animals and plants. In this situation, clusters are created by isolating free-floating cells and merging them as necessary. 

The Xenobots can virtually float while gathering hundreds of individual cells to create miniature versions of themselves in their mouths that quickly enlarge to full size. This sort of reproduction, known scientifically as kinematic replication, is common in molecules but not in higher cells or animals. 

In Xenobots 3.0, the cells are capable of self-healing and are active enough to move tiny objects. In normal conditions, frogs reproduce in a particular way, but when stem cells are liberated from the embryo, things change, according to experts. The Xenobots, or living robots, can push other single cells to give birth to new ones and can grow a cluster of up to three thousand cells in less than a week. 

Together, two Xenobot parents can create a pile and add additional cells to it. In this way, the daughter cells are created. The C-shaped robots from the video game Pac-Man have been shown to be the best for gathering stem cells and combining them into baby robots or biobots, according to supercomputers and artificial intelligence. 

The drawbacks of this kind of reproduction method include the sterility of the children produced by the parents. As a result, the procedure is not always feasible because “grandchildren” are still the method’s missing component. 

Artificial Intelligence Patentability in the USA  

The USPTO is involved in several worldwide AI-related projects. In multilateral AI-related discussions at WIPO and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the USPTO represents the US government. Additionally, the USPTO collaborates directly with other intellectual property offices, both bilaterally and multilaterally, through groupings like the IP5 Taskforce on New Emerging Technologies and AI as well as one-on-one interactions like bilateral discussions on the patentability of AI ideas. 

AI-based patent applications surged by more than 100% between 2002 and 2018. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released its suggestions on patenting AI inventions in 2019. 

Software-related inventions are eligible for patent protection in the USA, provided that the claims fit within one of the four categories of “patentable inventions” and cite a judicial exception as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

According to U.S. law, software-related inventions fall under the following categories covered under 35 U.S. Code § 101 (“Inventions patentable”).   

1.     a “process” (e.g., a software algorithm), 

2.     a “machine” (e.g., a device or system executing a software algorithm); and 

3.     an article of manufacture 

The Federal Circuit advises emphasizing the precise ways in which the current invention differs from the prior art to demonstrate the patentability of software-related ideas. In the USA, the Federal Circuit handles patent applications. The Federal Circuit offered a three-step procedure to illustrate how the software-related invention was improved.

The three actions consist of: 

1.     Describe the Improvement in the Patent Specification. 

2.     Distinguish the improvement from the prior art. 

3.     Recite the improvement in the patent claims. 

In the past ten years, the majority of AI components have expanded quickly, especially in the fields of planning/control and knowledge processing. AI is a complex technology with elements from many different fields. The challenge facing creators and patent attorneys is how to effectively safeguard the development of new AI technology. The greatest strategy for obtaining a patent grant is to concentrate on how the innovators advance current technologies. 

Stem Cell Patentability in the USA 

According to the Supreme Court, there are three exclusions to the 35 U.S.C. 101 (invention patentable) broad patent-eligibility standards: laws of nature, physical events, and abstract concepts. However, stem cell patentability is not specifically exempt from any laws. The Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, which reads as follows, is the closest legislation to address the patentability of stem cells: 

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no patent may issue on a claim directed to or encompassing a human organism.” 

Unless it falls under one of the three exceptions of laws of nature, natural events, or abstract concepts, the human stem cell may be patentable. In Diamond v. Chakrabarty, the US Supreme Court made it clear that an invention is still eligible for a patent under Section 101 even if it is still living. To put it another way, innovation does not automatically qualify as a natural phenomenon just because it exists. Under this cover, stem cells have been patented in the US for the past 30 years. 

Conclusion  

Some of the challenging issues that living innovations create for the patent system are illustrated by the odd case of Xenobots, living machines made from frog cells. Xenobots offer a lot of potentials, especially as a novel method of intelligent drug delivery. On the other hand, Xenobots raise important questions regarding the patenting of living technologies. The ability to be tough is programmed into modern robots, but Xenobots automatically repair themselves after becoming hurt. 

All volunteers were able to heal cuts after being exposed to them within 15 minutes, and no one was killed as a result of the injury. Furthermore, small wounds can be healed by contracting at the site of the injury, but it is unknown how large-scale damage is repaired. A major feature of soft-bodied robots is self-repair, which is challenging to implement with synthetic materials but naturally occurs with Xenobots. 

There is one more thing to think about besides the potential of Xenobots: Are Xenobots patent-eligible subject matter? Several Acts and Articles are investigated in an attempt to get over the challenges associated with Xenobot patenting. In addition to the patentable subject matter, Xenobots present issues concerning other fundamental patent principles. 

For instance, Xenobots illustrate how life is increasingly predictable from an engineering perspective. Living robots that behave predictably can now be constructed. This may suggest that there will be less room for non-obvious biological innovation and more room for predictive biological innovation going forward. 

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