AI robots 'cannot be classed as inventors'

Inventor loses UK high court appeal but pins hopes on future test case in Saudi Arabia

Robotic hands typing on keyboard, illustration.

A high court has ruled that AI robots cannot be classed as the inventor of designs they have created in one of a number of global test cases.

US inventor Stephen Thaler had applied to the UK's High Court in London to have two of his AI robot's inventions patented.

The AI machine, named Dabus, has designed a drinks container and an emergency flashing light - both of which UK judges said had grounds to be patented.

He had listed the AI robot as the inventor and the AI robot’s owner as the patent applicant and the prospective owner of any issued patents.

Only a person can have rights. A machine cannot
Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing

However, two judges dismissed Dr Thaler's application on the grounds that to hold a patent the inventor must be a real person.

“In the present case Dr Thaler did not identify 'the person or persons whom he believes to be the inventor or inventors' as required,” Lord Justice Arnold said.

“On the contrary, he deliberately identified a non-person as the inventor. The fact that he may genuinely have believed that Dabus was the inventor is neither here nor there.

“The answer he gave to the question was a legal impossibility.”

His judgment was supported by Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing.

“A patent is a statutory right and it can only be granted to a person,” she said.

“Only a person can have rights. A machine cannot.”

A third judge, Lord Justice Birss, had concluded Dr Thaler had grounds to appeal but was overruled by his colleagues.

“The fact that the creator of the inventions in this case was a machine is no impediment to patents being granted to this applicant,” he said.

“I would allow the appeal and declare that the applicant has satisfied the requirements.”

Dr Thaler had wanted to set a precedent that software can be a recognised as an inventor.

“While we would of course have preferred the appeal to have been allowed, we were very encouraged by the dissent of Lord Justice Birss who agreed with us that the creator of the inventions in this case was a machine and he would have allowed the appeal,” his lawyer Ryan Abbott told The National.

“We respectfully believe this was the correct interpretation of the current state of UK law.

“If the court recognised the patents it would serve as a critical incentive for people to make, use, and develop inventive machines capable of generating socially valuable innovation.”

Earlier this month, a patents court in the US also rejected the claim.

District Judge Leonie Brinkema, sitting in Alexandria, Virginia, said that federal law requires that an “individual” take an oath that he or she is the inventor on a patent and that a machine could not do that.

Dr Thaler's team has filed applications in 17 jurisdictions around the world listing Dabus as the inventor and a hearing in Saudi Arabia is pending.

Rulings in South Africa and Australia have favoured his argument, though the Australian patent office is presently appealing the decision.

South Africa became the first place in the world to recognise AI as an inventor in August.

The Artificial Inventor Project, run by law professor Ryan Abbott, is behind the bid to see a computer listed as an inventor.

They enlisted the help of Dr Thaler to build a machine whose main purpose was to invent.

Artificial Intelligence uses a machine to perform steps that mimic the work of a human mind, but at lightning speed, and promises to transform everything from drug discovery to autonomous cars.

Updated: September 23rd 2021, 3:00 AM