AI vs. Humans: Landmark Case Decides Whether Machines Can Own Patents

Stephen Thaler, an American computer scientist, recently urged the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court to grant him patents for inventions created by his artificial intelligence (AI) system, known as DABUS. Thaler believes that two patents should be granted in the UK for the inventions his AI system developed.

However, Thaler’s initial attempt to register the patents was denied on the grounds that the inventor must be a human or a company, rather than a machine. Thaler’s lawyer, Robert Jehan, argued before the Supreme Court that his client is entitled to the rights of the DABUS inventions because there is no requirement under UK patent law that an invention “must have a human inventor to be patentable.”

Jehan also contended that the owner of an AI system is entitled to inventions generated by the system and to the grant of patents for those inventions if patentable. Nonetheless, lawyers representing the UK’s Intellectual Property Office, which initially refused Thaler’s applications in 2019, argued the appeal should be dismissed. Stuart Baran said in written arguments that the British government had recently conducted a public consultation on how AI-created inventions should be dealt with under the UK patent system and decided not to change the law.

Baran also stated that Thaler’s applications in the European Union, the United States, Australia, and Germany have been rejected. Nevertheless, his application to register DABUS as an inventor was allowed in South Africa.

According to Mark Marfé, a London-based patent lawyer who is not involved in the case, Thaler’s Supreme Court appeal marks the first time that the issue of whether AI systems can own and transfer patent rights has been considered by a supreme-level court. Marfé also noted that ultimately, for a machine to be named as an inventor of a patent, patent laws will need to be amended.

This case raises questions about the ownership and transfer of intellectual property rights for AI-generated inventions. If machines are considered inventors, they may be entitled to rights over the patents generated by their inventions, leading to new legal and ethical challenges. It also raises the issue of how intellectual property laws can keep pace with technological advancements and whether existing laws can appropriately regulate AI-generated inventions.

As AI systems become increasingly prevalent in society, it is important to consider how they will impact the legal system and what changes may be required to ensure that the law can keep pace with technological developments. This case could set a precedent for how intellectual property laws should be adapted to account for AI-generated inventions, which could have significant implications for the future of innovation and intellectual property.

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