The US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Wednesday ruled that an artificial intelligence (AI) machine cannot be an inventor under the Patent Act. The action was a motion for summary judgement concerning two patent applications filed by Stephen Thaler for an AI machine called DABUS.
DABUS was listed as the inventor for Neural Flame—a light beacon that flashes in a new and inventive manner to attract attention—and Fractal Container—a beverage container based on fractal geometry. Thaler’s patent applications were rejected by the US Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO) and he challenged this refusal as “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of direction and not in accordance with the law”.
He filed this action seeking a declaration that a patent application should not be rejected only on grounds that there is no natural person identified as the inventor and that a patent application for an invention by AI should list the AI as the inventor when the criteria for inventorship has been fulfilled by the AI.
The court rejected Thaler’s contentions, holding that the definitions provided by Congress for “inventor” within the Patent Act reference an “individual” whose ordinary dictionary and statutory meaning is a natural person or a human being. Further, the usage of personal pronouns such as “himself or herself” and the verb “believes” in adjacent terms modifying the word “individual” makes it clear that Congress was referencing a natural person.
The court acknowledged that Thaler had provided several policy considerations, such as incentivising innovation and its disclosure as well as preserving the value of human inventorship. However, it held that the ultimate decision would lie with Congress.
In July, the South Africa patent office issued a patent listing DABUS as the inventor. Two days later, a federal judge from Australia also held that a nonhuman can be named as the inventor of a patent. However, US federal courts have consistently held that inventors must be natural persons. As AI technology evolves in sophistication, the US lawmakers and the judiciary will be increasingly grappling with the questions of expanding the scope of patent law.