US judge rules only humans, not AI, can get patents

A US judge ruled this week that an artificial intelligence cannot be listed as the inventor of a patent. This ruling is the latest on an issue that has come before judges in multiple countries.

A court in Alexandria, Virginia, ruled that inventions can only be patented under the name of a “natural person.” The decision was made against someone who tried to list two designs under the name of an AI as part of a broader project to gain worldwide recognition of AI-powered inventions.

Imagination Engines, Inc. CEO Stephen Thaler built an AI called DEBUS, which independently designed a new kind of drink holder and flashing light (used to get someone’s attention). The name “DEBUS,” along with “Invention generated by artificial intelligence,” was used in the attempted patent filing for the inventions. The creator of DEBUS would own the patents.

The decision points out that inventors must take an oath and declaration to be granted a patent. Thaler instead issued a statement saying the sole inventor was a “creativity machine” with no legal personality or ability to execute the oath and declaration.

Thaler created DEBUS as part of the Artificial Inventor Project (AIP), which is trying to get patents granted for AI-generated inventions worldwide. It has already won patents in South Africa and Australia. It’s also trying to get them in countries like Canada, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Brazil, and others.

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) decided in 2019 that the words Congress uses to describe inventors like “individual,” “himself,” or “herself,” imply human beings. The USPTO also noted that the Code of Federal Regulations describes an inventor as a “person” multiple times. This week’s ruling upholds the 2019 USPTO decision.

AIP member and law professor Ryan Abbott told Bloomberg in an email that they plan to appeal the US court decision.