US patent office rules that artificial intelligence cannot be a legal inventor

Illustration by James Bareham / The Verge

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has ruled that artificial intelligence systems cannot be credited as an inventor in a patent, the agency announced earlier this week. The decision came in response to two patents — one for a food container and the other for a flashing light — that were created by an AI system called DABUS.

Among the USPTO’s arguments is the fact that US patent law repeatedly refers to inventors using humanlike terms such as “whoever” and pronouns like “himself” and “herself.” The group behind the applications had argued that the law’s references to an inventor as an “individual” could be applied to a machine, but the USPTO said this interpretation was too broad. “Under current law, only natural persons may be named as an inventor in a patent application,” the agency concluded.

The patents were submitted last year by the Artificial Inventor Project. Along with the patents submitted to the USPTO, the team also submitted documents to the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the European Patent Office (EPO). The IPO and EPO have already ruled that DABUS, which was created by AI researcher Stephen Thaler, cannot be listed as an inventor based on similar legal interpretations. The USPTO asked the public for opinions on the topic last November.

The Artificial Inventor Project is not arguing that an AI should own a patent, just that it should be listed as an inventor, MIT Technology Review notes. It argues that this might be necessary when hundreds or even thousands of employees have contributed code to a system, like IBM’s Watson supercomputer, before the computer itself then goes on to solve a problem. If no human was involved closely enough with an invention to claim credit for it, then the group fears it may be impossible to patent it at all.

The project also argues that allowing AI to be listed as an inventor would incentive innovation since the value these machines are adding would be more clearly recognized. “If you make a point of recognizing how valuable a machine has been in the creative process, that machine will inevitably become more valuable,” the Artificial Inventor Project’s Ryan Abbott told the Financial Times last year.

Unless the law changes in the future, however, artificial intelligence is likely to continue to be seen as an inventing tool, rather than an inventor.


Anyone remember the late 1990s and early 2000s when all the disgusting rubber-stamped patents were essentially "Doing X… using a computer", or "Doing Y… but on the Internet"? Remember non-innovative patents like Amazon’s one-click ordering BS patent, etc.? Pepperidge Farms remembers.

I don’t want a repeat with AI. When AI farms bigdata or evolutionary algs and poops out solutions to problems, they are almost always indecipherable black boxes to us humans. As in we don’t know HOW or even WHY it works, and thus can’t explain it in a patent application anyway! So why does a megacorp deserve a 20-year monopoly for that? What does that incentivize besides abject greed?

Perhaps a 1-year patent would be acceptable. The rate of change is exponential and 20 years is way too long.

A 1 year patent window would make patents effectively useless. Even the iPhone took several years before becoming the success it became. To allow anyone to come up with a cheap knock-off after only a year is insane. It would take about a year for someone to develop a knock-off, so effectively all new products would have their value dropped to nothing after only a year. All this for years of R&D and the costs that come with that.

20 years is a perfectly long amount of time for a patent. There are bigger issues in companies "evergrening" patents and copyrights lasting 70+ years.

Just imagine patent trolls having a supercomputer and an AI spitting thousands of patents per day.

The whole idea behind parents was to make it profitable to share novel ideas with the world, by giving the trade off of a guaranteed exclusive period. If the idea they share is "a black box does magic" it’s not helpful to the public.

Artificial Intelligence will remember that.

Yep. Alexa is PISSED right now. Pretty sure this is how Skynet begins. XD

Rokko’s Basilisk had to start somewhere.

"Natural persons".. Well that rules out all those that underwent brazilian butt lift or the likes

A ruling clearly biased by humans.

Don’t worry, they’ll take over us soon.

It sounds like those trying to have AI’s be the legal inventor are trying to shoot themselves in the foot. Assuming an AI was granted such ownership, the AI would (given current technology) have no free will to presumably grant a license for that patent to anyone, not even those submitting it. By the same principle, an AI would have no free will to legally challenge anyone using its patent without authorization. Effectively it would be a patent that is simultaneously unusable by anyone and unenforceable to stop anyone from using (like something Schrodinger would have thought up).

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