The U.K.’s highest court made a significant ruling on Wednesday, stating that artificial intelligence (AI) cannot be listed as an inventor on a patent application. This decision came after Stephen Thaler filed two patent applications in 2018, one for a food packaging shape and another for a type of flashing light. He named his AI machine “DABUS” as the inventor, asserting his personal right to the patents as the owner of the AI machine.
Upon receiving the patent applications, the U.K. Intellectual Property Office immediately rejected Thaler’s submission. The office argued that he had failed to comply with patent stipulations, which require a natural person to be listed as the inventor. Additionally, they requested a description of how Thaler’s ownership rights derived from the individual (in this case, the AI).
Undeterred by the rejection, Thaler persisted in his claim, asserting that he had met all the necessary requirements under the 1977 patent legislation. Unfortunately, both the U.K.’s High Court and Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal, maintaining that AI cannot be listed as an inventor. The Supreme Court also echoed this sentiment in its judgment.
The Supreme Court clarified that it was not ruling on the broader question of whether AI-created technical advances should be patentable or whether the definition of “inventor” should be expanded. Instead, it focused on the existing patent law, which stipulates that the inventor must be a “natural person.” Thaler’s argument that he deserved the rights to patents through his ownership of DABUS was rejected based on this requirement.
Thaler’s lawyers expressed their concerns after the judgment, stating that the current U.K. patent law is inadequate for protecting inventions autonomously generated by AI machines. This ruling has sparked a debate about the suitability of patent regulations in an era of rapidly advancing AI technology.
Thaler faced similar challenges in the U.S. courts, where his appeals for patent rights were also denied. The U.S. courts maintained that only human inventors can be listed on patent applications. This decision aligns with the ruling from the U.K.’s Supreme Court, emphasizing the importance of natural personhood in patent laws.
Legal experts have emphasized that the Patents Act in the U.K. clearly requires inventors to be natural persons to obtain patents. They argue that while AI technology continues to advance, it is crucial to maintain the distinction between human inventors and AI tools. If Thaler had presented his case differently, asserting himself as the inventor who utilized DABUS as a highly sophisticated tool, the outcome may have differed. However, the Supreme Court’s focus was solely on whether an AI machine can be listed as the inventor.
The U.K.’s highest court’s ruling on AI’s inability to be listed as an inventor on patent applications has significant implications for the future of AI-generated inventions. While this judgment does not directly address the patentability of AI-driven technical advances, it affirms the current requirement of a natural person as the inventor. As AI technology continues to advance, it remains vital to reassess and update patent laws to ensure appropriate protection for both human inventors and AI-driven innovations.