UK Supreme Court Rules AI Cannot Be Patent Inventor

The UK Supreme Court has ruled a patent inventor must be a human being, or a company, and not an artificial intelligence (AI) system.

Reuters reported on the landmark ruling, after Dr Stephen Thaler – an American computer scientist – had on Wednesday lost his bid to register patents in the UK for two inventions created by his artificial intelligence system.

The significant ruling from the UK Supreme Court, comes after a lower court two years ago had dealt a serious blow to a long-running campaign to grant more legal rights to artificial intelligence systems.

AI patents

Back in September 2021, the England and Wales Court of Appeal had ruled that an artificial intelligence could not be considered as an inventor for the purposes of granting patents.

Dr Stephen Thaler had filed two UK patent applications with the UK’s Intellectual Property Office in October and November 2018 for a food or beverage container, and a new kind of light beacon to attract attention in an emergency situation.

He listed not himself, but rather his AI “creativity machine” called Dabus as the inventor, with the patents to be ascribed to him as the owner and operator of Dabus.

The UK’s Intellectual Property Office in December 2019 refused the patents on the grounds that the inventor must be a human or a company, rather than a machine.

When Dr Thaler lost the Court of Appeals case two years ago, he said he would appeal the ruling to the UK Supreme Court.

Supreme Court

Now in December 2023, the UK’s Supreme Court on Wednesday has unanimously rejected his appeal.

Judge David Kitchin, announcing the court’s ruling, reportedly said that under UK patent law “an inventor must be a natural person.”

“In my judgement, the position taken by the Comptroller on this issue is entirely correct. The structure and content of sections 7 and 13 of the Act, on their own and in the context of the Act as a whole, permit only one interpretation: an inventor within the meaning of the 1977 Act must be a natural person, and DABUS is not a person at all, let alone a natural person: it is a machine and on the factual assumption underpinning these proceedings, created or generated the technical advances disclosed in the applications on its own,” the ruling states.

Dr Thaler earlier this year had lost a similar bid in the United States, when the Supreme Court there declined to hear a challenge to the US Patent and Trademark Office’s refusal to issue patents for inventions created by his AI system.

However, Dr Thaler has won appeals in South Africa and Australia back in 2021 over the same matter.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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