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UK Supreme Court Declares AI Can't Claim Patent Inventorship

UK Supreme Court Declares AI Can't Claim Patent Inventorship

Industry news News 20/12/2023

In a landmark decision with global implications, the UK Supreme Court has ruled that Artificial Intelligence (AI) cannot be named as an inventor on patents and an inventor ‘must be a person’. This comes after US-based developer, Dr Stephen Thaler tried to list his AI machine, DABUS, as the inventor of two inventions, a food container and a fractal lamp.

Dr Thaler claimed that DABUS autonomously contributed to the inventions through its unique algorithms, however the Court unanimously stated that current patent law requires inventors to be natural persons. AI, despite its growing sophistication, simply doesn't fit the legal definition.

This decision represents a significant roadblock for advocates of AI inventorship, who argue that recognising AI's role is crucial for fostering innovation. They point out that AI can often generate novel ideas that humans might miss, and denying it credit stifles progress.

Opponents, however, raise concerns about ethical and legal complexities. Assigning inventorship to AI raises questions about ownership, liability, and control. Who would truly own the patent? Who would be responsible for potential harm caused by an AI-invented product? These are challenging questions with no easy answers.

The judge said the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) was to entitled to find that Dr Thaler’s applications should be taken as “withdrawn” under patent rules because “he failed to identify any person or persons whom he believed to be the inventor or inventors of the inventions described in the applications”.

Case Timeline:

  • October/November 2019: Dr Stephen Thaler files two patent applications in the UK, listing his AI creation "DABUS" as the inventor for a food container and a light beacon.


  • December 2019: The UK IPO rejects Thaler's applications, denying DABUS's inventorship status as it is not a "person" under current patent law.


  • July 2020:Thaler appeals the IPO's decision to the High Court. The High Court upholds the IPO's decision, reiterating that inventors must be human individuals.


  • July 2021: Thaler further appeals to the Court of Appeal, which again upholds the earlier rulings.


  • March 2023: A final hearing takes place before the UK Supreme Court. (See judgement)


  • December 2023: The Supreme Court unanimously dismisses Thaler's case, affirming that only natural persons can be inventors under the current legal framework.


The UK ruling sets a precedent for now, but the debate is far from over. Other authorities are grappling with similar issues, and the global conversation on AI inventorship is likely to continue. This decision may even accelerate legislative efforts to adapt patent laws to the evolving landscape of AI.

For Secerna, this ruling underscores the importance of navigating the intersection of AI and intellectual property with careful consideration. While AI holds immense potential for innovation, ensuring ethical and responsible development remains paramount. We must embrace innovation without compromising legal clarity and societal well-being.

The future of AI inventorship may remain shrouded in uncertainty for now, but one thing is clear: the conversation has just begun. Stay tuned as this pivotal development unfolds, and remember, at Secerna, we're committed to staying at the forefront of this evolving landscape.