The UK’s Court of Appeal has ruled that AI cannot be the inventor of patents, as ownership must fall to a human.
The landmark case came after US inventor Dr Stephen Thaler lodged two patent applications naming his AI system – called Dabus – as the inventor. He claimed the idea for the patents (one for a type of food container and the other for a specific flashing light) came from the “creativity machine” and not himself.
Thaler’s claim was rejected by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), which requested he name a person as the inventor for the application to be assessed. When Thaler refused, the IPO deemed his application to have been withdrawn. Thaler then took the fight to the High Court, and when this failed he headed to the Court of Appeal, which ruled 2-1 against.
In her judgement, Lady Justice Elizabeth wrote: “Only a person can have rights. A machine cannot. A patent is a statutory right and it can only be granted to a person.”
The one judge who found in Thaler’s favour, Lord Justice Birss, claimed the IPO didn’t actually require a person to be named as the inventor and it is, in fact, “not obliged to name anyone or anything”. However, he did remark that the case would have been a lot more straightforward, were Thaler not “such an obsessive” in his fight to allow machines to be patent holders.
The UK ruling follows a similar verdict in the USA, where District Judge Leonie M Brinkema argued that machines weren’t yet sophisticated enough “such that it might satisfy accepted meanings of inventorship”.
It was a different story in Australia and South Africa, though, where courts ruled in Thaler’s favour.
Interestingly, the places where Thaler’s cases were rejected still held the door open for such developments in future, not least the USA where patent applications are among the most difficult in the world. With academics around the world calling these patent laws “outdated”, it appears the change could be coming soon, if not just yet.