British Supreme Court Rules AI Cannot Hold a Patent

The rise of generative artificial intelligence has spurred many questions involving intellectual property. One of these questions is whether an AI can hold a patent if it creates something that falls within the scope of patent laws. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled on this issue last week.

The case involved Dr. Stephen Thaler, an American who created an AI machine called DABUS. Thaler argued that DABUS should be listed as the inventor for two patents. It allegedly created a food or drink container and a light beacon without human assistance. The Intellectual Property Office in the United Kingdom ruled against Thaler’s application for a patent on behalf of DABUS in 2019. The IPO found that something that is not a person cannot be an inventor. Thaler appealed, and the case eventually reached the highest court in the United Kingdom.

A panel of five justices unanimously dismissed the case, agreeing with the IPO’s conclusion. They found that the IPO was justified in considering the patent applications withdrawn because they did not identify any person as the inventor of the inventions described in the applications. In addition, the panel ruled that Thaler did not have an independent right to get a patent for an invention by the AI machine due to being its owner.

The decision in the United Kingdom echoes decisions by U.S. courts. Thaler pursued similar litigation here, culminating in a Federal Circuit decision last year. In Thaler v. Vidal, this federal appellate court ruled that U.S. patent law requires an inventor to be a natural person, since it recurrently uses the word “individual.” The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of this decision. Thus, an AI cannot be a named inventor on a patent under current U.S. law. This could change, however, if Congress amends the Patent Act to allow for this possibility.

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