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The perks and pitfalls of creating prolific AI inventors Posted on : Dec 27 - 2021

Artificial intelligence (AI) has had a profound impact on our society in recent years, but it’s been around longer than you may realize. Many people attribute the beginning of AI to a paper written in 1950 by Alan Turing titled “Computer Machinery and Intelligence.” The term artificial intelligence, however, was first coined in 1956 at a conference that took place at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Since then, interest in AI has wavered. Its most recent resurgence can be attributed to IBM’s Deep Blue chess-playing supercomputer and its question-answering machine Watson. Today, AI is part of our everyday lives – from facial recognition technology and ride-share apps to smart assistants. It’s also at the forefront of the future’s driverless vehicles.

As AI continues to get more and more intelligent, it begs the question – should AI machines be able to patent their inventions?

At the center of this debate is Stephen Thaler and his AI computer DABUS (“device for the autonomous bootstrapping of unified science”). Unlike everyday AI such as Alexa and Siri, DABUS is a unique type of AI often referred to as a “creativity machine,” meaning it is capable of independent and complex functioning. As such, it is named as the sole inventor on two patent applications filed in several countries. One invention is for a food container, and the other for an alert light. This has resulted in a worldwide legal fight and debate over how to handle computer-created innovation.

Thaler claims he didn’t direct the machine to invent these products. Instead, he said that DABUS analyzes data, generates ideas, and invents products. Since Thaler wasn’t involved in the process of inventing these products, he feels that DABUS should be named as the inventor. However, he says he should own the patent rights because he owns DABUS.

The patent applications were refused in the United States, England, Europe, and Australia on the basis that only humans can file for patents. The High Court in England upheld the U.K. Intellectual Property Office’s decision to withdraw the applications on the same basis. The court also held that the patent could not be transferred to Thaler.

Thaler was, however, recently successful in an appeal to the Federal District Court of Australia. That court found that Australian law doesn’t require a human inventor – only an inventor. The judge said that the definition of an inventor was ambiguous and did not exclude machines. Thaler also succeeded in getting a patent in South Africa. However, this may be less important because South Africa doesn’t examine patent applications, meaning that all South African patent applications will be granted without a check to see if requirements are met.

U.S. Federal Court decision

Thaler appealed the decision by the United States Patent Office (USPTO) to the Virginia Federal Court, which ruled that the USPTO was correct. The court found that patent law explicitly defines “inventor” as an individual. Although the patent laws don’t define “individual,” courts, as well as the plain meaning of the term, define an individual as a human being. Therefore, an inventor must be a human being. View more