Human-robot interactions, once confined to science fiction, are becoming part of daily life. In addition to manufacturing and automated teller machines, robot interfaces are replacing purely human interactions in variety of service-sector interactions. Soon, clerical work, transportation, and drive-through eateries will be automated. Some robots are becoming more human-like in appearance, interactions, and cognitive function.
The Henn-na Hotel in Japan is illustrative of this trend. It bills itself as “the world’s first hotel staffed by robots.” The hotel uses robots for reception, as porters, and for room service. The Henn-Na Hotel describes its robots as “mechanical yet somehow human,” and claims that they “will warm your heart.”
As another example, Japan has indicated that robots will be a central part of hosting the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, including directing spectators to their seats.
In the realm of intellectual property law, however, robots are not merely functional items confined to the practice area of patent protection. Consumers will certainly associate the appearance or other attributes of these robots with their respective sources, giving rise to the question, “What protection is available when the appearance of the robot becomes an emblem of my business?”