Elon Musk’s Neuralink and the brain-machine interface patent landscape

Neuralink is a brain-machine interface (BMI) company bought in 2016 by Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, Space X and Hyperloop. The company is developing a “super-high-speed brain-machine interface,” essentially an array of tiny electrodes attached to a user’s brain that allows the user to wirelessly communicate with the world. The company envisions 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 full-brain interface, which will enable ‘symbiosis’ between humans and artificial intelligence.” (See Urban, Tim; “Neuralink and the Magical Future of the Brain”).

Tim Urban describes future uses for Neuralink: “Your car (or whatever people are using for transportation at the time) will stop at your house and your mind will open the car door. You will walk home and your mind will unlock and open the front door (all doors at this point will be built with sensors to receive commands from the motor cortex). You’ll think you want coffee and the coffee maker will take care of it. When you walk towards the fridge the door will open and after you get what you need it will close when you walk away. People will play the piano with their thoughts. And build buildings. And direct the vehicles. (See above).

Neuralink has made impressive recent progress. 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 his mind. The company continues to make progress in improving the longevity of its brain interface chip and improving the speed of decoding neural spikes, two areas in which Neuralink has recently issued patent applications.

Meanwhile, several competing companies have threatened Neuralink’s dominance in the tech 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 gain FDA approval for human trials, Neuralink has the most patent assets in its class and is expected to receive FDA approval for human trials within the year. While Neuralink has a small edge over its competitors, especially in the area of ​​AI, the company will need to keep innovating to stay ahead.

Neuralink’s AI-augmented devices generally fall into one of four categories available for claim, including: (1) implanted medical devices suitable for stimulating and recording neurochemical activity; (2) computer software to facilitate device and brain control; (3) methods of treating neurological disorders and (4) methods of communicating thoughts between human brains.

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