The US Says AI Can't Be an Inventor As It's Not An Individual, Yet

Only "natural humans" can patent inventions, for now.
Ameya Paleja
AI can be programmed to come up with ideas.Devrimb/iStock

Last month, we covered a historic moment. For the very first time, the patent office in South Africa allowed artificial intelligence (AI) to be an inventor on a patent. However, subsequent patent applications in the UK, the EU, and the US were rejected by their respective patent offices. Now, a US court has upheld the US Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) decision and ruled that AI cannot be an inventor, simply because it is not an individual, yet, The Verge reported. 

Device for Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience (DABUS) is an AI system that can brainstorm and come up with new ideas on its own. Built to learn like a child, this "creativity machine" learns fast and can think independently about problems and ideate on how to solve them afterward.

AI-researcher Stephen Thaler who built the system credits DABUS for a new concept of food container that is based on fractal geometry and has improved grip as well as heat transfer. It was for this invention that the South African patent office recognized DABUS as an inventor. When Thaler's similar applications in other countries were rejected, he approached courts to overturn them, however, an Australian court obliged

Thaler's appeal in the US court, however, did not meet the same success. Judge Leonie Brinkema upheld the USPTO argument that under current US law, DABUS could not be listed as an inventor because it was a machine and not a person. The law made by the US Congress defines an inventor as an "individual" and the USPTO refers to inventors as 'himself' or 'herself', thereby referring to a natural person, said the judge while ruling against Thaler's appeal.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), individuals are listed as patent owners, even if the invention is developed during employment with an organization. With the changing role of technology in our daily lives, this is set to change. 

An Australian court ruled that an "inventor" was an agent noun and could be a person or a thing that invents. But the US court does not think that that time for such a change has come yet and it's going to take some more time to change the law. "When artificial intelligence reaches a level of sophistication that might satisfy accepted meanings of inventorship, it will be up to Congress to decide how, if at all, it wants to expand the scope of patent law," the ruling said. 

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