UK Supreme Court rules that artificial intelligence systems cannot be registered as patent ‘inventors’

  • The Supreme Court of Britain ruled that an artificial intelligence system cannot be registered as the inventor of a patent, affirming that an inventor must be a person under current law.
  • The decision concluded a legal battle by American technologist Stephen Thaler, who sought to have his AI recognized as the inventor of two patents.
  • Thaler appealed to the Supreme Court, which unanimously dismissed the case, stating that the AI did not devise any relevant invention.

An artificial intelligence system can’t be registered as the inventor of a patent, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a decision that denies machines the same status as humans.

The U.K.’s highest court concluded that “an inventor must be a person” to apply for patents under the current law.

The decision was the culmination of American technologist Stephen Thaler’s long-running British legal battle to get his AI, dubbed DABUS, listed as the inventor of two patents.

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Thaler claims DABUS autonomously created a food and drink container and a light beacon and that he’s entitled to rights over its inventions. Tribunals in the U.S. and the European Union have rejected similar applications by Thaler.

A man enters the Supreme Court in London on Oct. 9, 2023. An artificial intelligence system can’t be registered as the inventor of a patent, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 20, 2023 in a decision denying machines the same status as humans. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

The U.K. Intellectual Property Office rejected Thaler’s application in 2019, saying it’s unable to officially register DABUS as the inventor because it’s not a person. After lower courts sided with the patent office, Thaler took his appeal to the Supreme Court, where a panel of judges unanimously dismissed the case.

The judges said DABUS is “not a person, let alone a natural person and it did not devise any relevant invention.”

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Legal experts said the case shows how Britain’s laws haven’t kept up with technology and that policies should be updated given the breathtaking recent developments made by artificial intelligence, underscored by generative AI systems like OpenAI’s ChatGPT that can rapidly spew out new poems, songs and computer code.

“As AI systems continue to advance in sophistication and capability, there is no denying their ability to generate new and non-obvious products and processes with minimal, or perhaps even without any, ongoing human input,” said Nick White, a partner at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys.

“Change may be on the horizon, but it will most likely come from the policymakers, rather than the judges,” he said.

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