AI systems cannot be named as the inventor of patents, UK’s top court rules

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An artificial intelligence (AI) system cannot be registered as the inventor of a patent, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a decision that denies machines the same status as humans.

The UK’s highest court concluded that “an inventor must be a person” to apply for patents under the current law.

The decision was the culmination of American technologist Stephen Thaler’s long-running British legal battle to get his AI, dubbed DABUS, listed as the inventor of two patents.

Thaler claims DABUS autonomously created a food and drink container and a light beacon and that he is entitled to rights over its inventions. Tribunals in the US and the European Union have rejected similar applications by Thaler.

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The UK Intellectual Property Office rejected Thaler’s application in 2019, saying it was unable to officially register DABUS as the inventor because it is not a person. After lower courts sided with the patent office, Thaler took his appeal to the Supreme Court, where a panel of judges unanimously dismissed the case.

The judges said DABUS is “not a person, let alone a natural person and it did not devise any relevant invention”.

Legal experts said the case shows how Britain’s laws have not kept up with technology and that policies should be updated given the breathtaking recent developments made by artificial intelligence, underscored by generative AI systems like OpenAI’s ChatGPT that can rapidly spew out new poems, songs and computer code.

“As AI systems continue to advance in sophistication and capability, there is no denying their ability to generate new and non-obvious products and processes with minimal, or perhaps even without any, ongoing human input,” said Nick White, a partner at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys.

“Change may be on the horizon, but it will most likely come from the policymakers, rather than the judges,” he said.

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