Is AI ‘Copilot’ a Common Term or a Trademark?

The term “copilot” is currently widely used in the enterprise software industry to refer to AI assistants. Its usage, however, is evolving and sometimes it is capitalized while other times it is not. The term gained popularity when GitHub and Microsoft named their respective flagship AI assistants Copilot. Over time, the term copilot has become generic and refers to any generative AI assistant specifically trained for a particular task.

The use of the term copilot can sometimes lead to confusion among customers who may not know whether they are getting a Microsoft product or not. However, Microsoft does not seem to be claiming ownership over the term as many other companies also use it. The term copilot originates from the aviation industry and implies a capable right-hand person for a skilled professional.

Microsoft Copilot is a broad term encompassing various generative AI and chatbot products available in Microsoft productivity software. Differentiating between Microsoft Copilot’s different iterations and new features and integrations can be done with the help of a guide. Microsoft uses two constructions for Copilot product names: “in” or “for”. For instance, Copilot for Security and Copilots for Finance, Sales, and Service are separate products likely to be purchased for specific uses or departments. Each one offers similar capabilities to Copilot in Microsoft products but is more industry-specific. Additionally, Copilot in Bing was previously known as Bing Chat before Microsoft unified its brand names.

GitHub Copilot, released in 2021 after Microsoft acquired GitHub, generates code based on a developer’s existing code and functions as an AI version of pair programming. GitHub recently added a chatbot feature, GitHub Copilot X, to its latest iteration, thus completing the circle of generative AI.

Microsoft Copilot and GitHub Copilot serve different primary purposes. While GitHub Copilot is tailored specifically for coding, Microsoft Copilot integrates with various business software. GitHub Copilot reads code, while Microsoft Copilot processes natural language and works alongside multiple Microsoft products. However, Microsoft Copilot can also be used for coding in certain instances, such as when integrated with Visual Studio Code on Power Pages.

Apart from Microsoft and GitHub, other companies use the term Copilot for their generative AI products. Salesforce introduced Einstein Copilot, which works across its data cloud, AI, and customer relationship management offerings. Appian, a business process automation software company, also refers to its generative AI as Copilot. Copilot AI, a sales prospecting software company, offers predictive responses to LinkedIn conversations and campaigns. Many other companies are adopting the term Copilot to signify the integration of generative AI into their services.

As of now, “copilot” can be used both as a generic term and a brand-specific name for AI chatbot products in various business contexts. The use of the term indicates the early stages of AI development and its role as an assistant in the form of chatbots customized for specific applications. The generic version of AI assistants is often written in lowercase, while companies that embrace the generic version may also use the capitalized form. For example, NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang used copilot as a generic term at NVIDIA GTC, and numerous companies at the conference also followed suit. However, some companies, like IBM with its watsonx AI sidekick and Databricks with its Databricks Assistant, choose to use alternative names like Assistant.

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