UK Supreme Court hears landmark patent case over AI ‘inventor’

An American computer scientist on Thursday urged the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court to rule he is entitled to patents over inventions created by his artificial intelligence system, in a landmark case about whether AI can own patent rights.

Stephen Thaler wants to be granted two patents in the UK over inventions he says were devised by his “creativity machine” called DABUS.

His attempt to register the patents was refused on the grounds that the inventor must be a human or a company, rather than a machine.

Thaler’s lawyer Robert Jehan told the Supreme Court in London that Thaler is “entitled to the rights of the DABUS inventions” because there is no requirement under UK patent law that an invention “must have a human inventor to be patentable”.

He argued in court filings that the owner of an AI system is “entitled to inventions generated by the system and to the grant of patents for those inventions if patentable”.

But lawyers representing the UK’s Intellectual Property Office, which initially refused Thaler’s applications in 2019, argued the appeal should be dismissed.

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Stuart Baran said in written arguments that the British government had recently conducted a public consultation on how AI-created inventions should be dealt with under the UK patent system and decided not to change the law. He also said Thaler’s attempts at similar applications in the European Union, the United States, Australia and Germany have been refused, though his application to register DABUS as an inventor was allowed in South Africa.

Thaler’s Supreme Court appeal marks the first time the issue of whether AI systems can own and transfer patent rights has been considered by a supreme-level court, according to London-based patent lawyer Mark Marfe, who is not involved in the case.

“Ultimately, for a machine to be named as an inventor of a patent, patent laws will need to be amended,” Marfe said in a statement before the hearing.

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