US court upholds ruling that AIs can’t be patent holders

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The US Court of Appeals has upheld previous rulings that AIs cannot hold patents for inventions.

AIs are increasingly being used to make new discoveries but, under most patent laws, a human must be listed as the patent holder for inventions.

Dr Stephen Thaler created a device called DABUS that consists of neural networks and has been used to invent an emergency warning light, a food container that improves grip and heat transfer, and more.

Thaler believes that AIs should be patent holders and has launched numerous cases in at least 15 countries to argue the case.

So far, the cases in the UK, US, and New Zealand have all been rejected.

In August 2021, an Australian federal court ruled that AI systems can be credited as inventors. However, in April 2022 that decision was reversed.

Ryan Abbott, a professor at the University of Surrey, filed the applications in Australia on behalf of Dr Thaler.

“If I teach my PhD student and they go on to make a final complex idea, that doesn’t make me an inventor on their patent, so it shouldn’t with a machine,” Abbott told the Wall Street Journal in 2019.

In the US, the case was submitted by the Artificial Inventor Project (AIP) which argued that Thaler has no experience in consumer goods and would not have created them himself. Once again, it was rejected.

“This is a case in which the question of statutory interpretation begins and ends with the plain meaning of the text … [T]here is no ambiguity: the Patent Act requires that inventors must be natural persons; that is, human beings,” wrote Judge Leonard P. Stark in the court’s ruling.

At the time, Thaler and Abbott said they’d continue appealing the decisions.

“It ignores the purpose of the Patent Act and the outcome that AI-generated inventions are now unpatentable in the United States,” Abbott told Bloomberg Law.

“That is an outcome with real negative social consequences.”

While the appeal rejections haven’t deterred Thaler or Abbott, most courts appear set on maintaining the principle that humans can only be listed as inventors.

The primary argument of the courts is that no AI is creating a new invention by itself, it’s a tool that’s ultimately acting on the instruction of a human. Until we achieve general artificial intelligence, it’s a position that’s hard to dispute.

Of the latest rejection, Thaler is requesting a rehearing at the Federal Circuit level.

(Photo by Daniel Herron on Unsplash)

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