The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has ruled that artificial intelligence systems cannot be credited as an inventor in a patent. This was announced by the agency, USPTO earlier this week. The decision came in response to two patents – one for a food container and another for a flashing light. Both 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 of 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 I write a Word document with Microsoft Word, that doesn’t make Microsoft Word an author, and if use an Excel spreadsheet, that’s not making Excel an inventor of a patent I make,” says Abbott, who is also one of the lawyers working on the Artificial Inventor Project. But, he says, perhaps there are times when a piece of software or an algorithm should be considered the inventor.
“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 said last year.
As to the bigger question, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema had this to say:
“There may come a time when artificial intelligence reaches a level of sophistication such that it might satisfy accepted meanings of inventorship. But that time has not yet arrived, and, if it does, it will be up to Congress to decide how, if at all, it wants to expand the scope of patent law.”
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.
(image credit: Wikimedia Commons)