Can an AI Be an Inventor? In the US, the Answer Remains No

Can an AI Be an Inventor

Artificial intelligence (AI) rapidly transforms countless industries, from healthcare to finance. Its ability to analyze vast data, identify patterns, and even generate creative outputs has led to a question: Could AI be recognized as an inventor?

In the United States, the answer, at least for now, is a resounding “no.” This blog post explores the legal battles surrounding this issue, focusing on the Thaler v. Hirshfeld case and its implications for the future of AI innovation.

What is Inventorship Under US Patent Law?

The core requirement of inventorship under US patent law is simple yet significant: an inventor must be a “natural person.” This means that only human beings can be legally recognized as inventors on patents. This jurisdiction is enshrined in the US Patent Act, specifically in section 35 U.S.C. 100(f), which defines an inventor as:

The term “inventor” means the individual or, if a joint invention, the individuals collectively who invented or discovered the subject matter of the invention.

The term “individual” in this context has been consistently interpreted by courts to mean a human being. This interpretation stems from the long-standing understanding that invention requires the spark of human ingenuity and creativity.

Several recent court decisions reinforced the requirement that inventors be natural persons. This was most notable in the case of Thaler v. Vidal.

What is Inventorship Under US Patent Law
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Overview of Thaler v. Vidal

In Thaler v. Vidal, an AI researcher, Dr. Stephen Thaler filed patent applications for inventions created by his AI system. DABUS means Device for Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience. He listed DABUS as the sole inventor of these applications. He argued that since the AI conceived and generated the inventions autonomously, it should be recognized as the rightful inventor.

However, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the USPTO’s rejection of these applications. The court’s decision hinged on interpreting the term “inventor” as defined in the Patent Act. The Patent Act defines an inventor as an “individual.” The court concluded this term refers exclusively to natural persons or human beings. This interpretation relied on the ordinary meaning of “individual” and its context in the Patent Act. The court determined that various provisions of the Act imply that an inventor must be a natural person. These provisions include the requirement for inventors to submit an oath or declaration and the use of personal pronouns. As a result, the court ruled that DABUS, an AI system, cannot be considered an inventor under U.S. law.

The Federal Circuit’s Interpretation of the Patent Act

The Federal Circuit’s decision in Thaler v. Vidal rested heavily on its interpretation of the term “individual” within the context of the Patent Act. The court conducted a textual analysis. It examined the ordinary meaning of “individual” and its usage in the Patent Act.

To determine the ordinary meaning, the court consulted dictionaries, which consistently defined “individual” as a human being. This reinforced the notion that the term generally refers to natural persons. Furthermore, the court scrutinized the Patent Act itself, observing that the language consistently implied that inventors must be human beings. For instance, the Act requires inventors to submit oaths or declarations. Natural persons typically perform this task. Moreover, various provisions of the Act use personal pronouns like “himself” and “herself”. This suggests the inventor as a natural person.

The court reasoned that if Congress wanted AI systems as inventors, it would have stated so. Thus, only humans can be inventors under U.S. patent law. This has major implications for AI inventions, highlighting the need for legal reforms.

Arguments in Favor of AI Inventorship

AI inventor and human handshake
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Dr. Thaler and other proponents of AI inventorship have advanced several compelling arguments in favor of recognizing AI as inventors. They argue that AI machines can autonomously generate inventions. Denying them inventorship status could hinder progress. They contend that AI is becoming increasingly sophisticated. It is capable of independent creative output, making it a valuable contributor to the inventive process. Recognizing AI as an inventor could offer several potential benefits.

First, it would provide a more accurate reflection of the inventive process in cases where AI plays a significant role. This could incentivize investment in AI research and development, leading to further advancements in the field.

Second, it could encourage the disclosure and sharing of AI-generated inventions, promoting transparency and collaboration in the scientific community.

Third, recognizing AI as an inventor could potentially resolve patent ownership and licensing issues. It could clarify the rights and responsibilities of those involved in AI development and deployment.

Arguments Against AI Inventorship

Granting patents to AI systems also raises several challenges and implications. One major concern is the lack of legal personhood for AI systems. Unlike human inventors, AI systems cannot hold property rights or assume legal responsibility for their inventions. This raises questions about who will own the patents and be liable for any harm caused by the inventions.

AI systems may cause an explosion of patent filings, overwhelming the patent system. This could hinder technology access. Additionally, there are concerns about the impact on human inventors, who may face increased competition from AI systems and struggle to protect their intellectual property rights.

Addressing these challenges will require careful consideration and innovative solutions. One approach could create a legal framework recognizing AI as inventors. This framework assigns ownership and liability to human entities.

Another approach could be to establish a system of shared ownership or co-inventorship between AI systems and human collaborators. It is also essential to consider the ethical implications of AI inventorship, such as the potential for AI systems to perpetuate biases or engage in unethical behavior.

In summary of arguments In favor of AI inventorship versus against:

Arguments in Favor

Arguments Against

AI can autonomously generate inventions.

Lack of legal personhood for AI.

Recognition could incentivize AI research.

Ownership and liability issues arise.

Promotes transparency and collaboration.

Patent system overload may occur.

Resolves patent ownership and licensing.

Potential negative impact on human inventors.

Possibility of shared ownership/co-inventorship.

Ethical concerns regarding biases and behavior.

International Perspectives

The question of AI inventorship is not unique to the United States. Other countries are also grappling with this issue, and their approaches vary. For instance, in 2021, a South African court recognized DABUS as an inventor on a patent application, marking a significant departure from the prevailing global stance. Conversely, the European Patent Office and the UK Intellectual Property Office have both rejected patent applications listing AI systems as inventors, aligning with the U.S. position. Australia initially recognized an AI system as an inventor but later overturned this decision.

These differing approaches highlight the importance of international collaboration and harmonization in addressing the issue of AI inventorship. The development and use of AI technologies transcend national borders, and the legal frameworks governing AI-generated inventions should strive for consistency and clarity to avoid conflicts and uncertainties. International cooperation can facilitate the exchange of ideas and best practices, enabling countries to develop comprehensive and effective policies regarding AI inventorship. It can also help to ensure that the rights of all stakeholders, including AI developers, users, and society as a whole, are protected.

Harmonization of patent laws and regulations on AI inventorship can promote innovation and investment in AI technologies by providing a stable and predictable legal environment. It can also prevent a fragmented global landscape where different countries have conflicting rules, leading to confusion and potential legal disputes. Ethical considerations can address AI-generated inventions. International collaboration ensures responsible use for societal benefit.

Can an AI Be an Inventor? A Conclusion

In the U.S., the law is clear: AI cannot be considered an inventor. This was confirmed in the court case Thaler v. Vidal, which upheld the long-held principle that only humans can be inventors. This ruling has sparked a complex debate about the role of AI in invention.

Supporters of AI inventorship argue that recognizing AI’s creative contributions would encourage innovation and lead to advances in AI. They also believe it would create clearer rules around who owns AI-created inventions. However, critics worry about legal issues since AI is not a person, and about potential negative impacts, such as a flood of AI-generated patents. They also express concerns about potential bias in AI-created inventions. As AI advances, society must continue discussing these issues and potentially revise laws for ethical AI use in invention.

For more information on this topic, you can consult the following references:

For further guidance on navigating the complexities of intellectual property law in the age of AI, please contact us at Stevens Law Group. Our team of experienced attorneys is here to help you protect your innovations in an evolving legal landscape.

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