Artificial intelligence (AI) cannot be legally considered an inventor to secure patent rights, the Supreme Court has ruled.
In Wednesday’s judgment, the UK’s highest court said “an inventor must be a person” in order to apply for patents under the current law.
In a lengthy patent dispute, an American technologist has created an artificial intelligence system which he claims is an inventor.
According to Dr Stephen Thaler, the system, which is called DABUS, invented a container for food and drink and a light beacon.
The problem arose when he tried to patent these and list his AI system as the inventor in 2019.
He had his case and subsequent appeals rejected in the US and then on Wednesday, received a final rejection of his appeal from the UK’s top court after an appeal process lasting three years.
What this case comes down to is whether or not you have to be a human being in order to be able to hold a patent.
Dr Thaler’s team argued that the law does not specify that you have to be a person to hold a patent and that he can apply for a patent on behalf of the AI because he owns it.
But judges at the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the case and said you have to be a “natural person” in order to be considered an inventor under the patents act, and that Dr Thaler has not made his case for why he can apply for a patent on behalf of the AI.
The judges said they had considered the meaning of the term “inventor” in the Patents Act and whether it encompasses a machine, but concluded that only a person can devise an invention, so DABUS is not an inventor.
The ruling does not cover whether or not the AI created the inventions, but only whether it can be considered an inventor under the Patents Act of 1977.
Patents, which provide legal protection, are granted for inventions that are new, not obvious, and meet a set of requirements.
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Patent rights make it illegal for anyone other than the owner or someone with the owner’s permission to make, use, import or sell the invention in the country where the patent was granted.
Dr Thaler did not succeed in his latest attempt to win legal protection for the work produced by his AI system.
But as AI is increasingly used as a tool for creation across society, this brand of dispute is likely to become more common.
Whether or not the Patents Act from 1977 properly accounts for the nature of today’s invention and the role of technology is a question for policymakers.