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In a decision that may shape the future of artificial intelligence (AI) and patent law, the UK Supreme Court has ruled against Dr. Stephen Thaler in a landmark case concerning the role of AI in inventing. Dr. Thaler, who created the AI system DABUS (Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience), sought to have DABUS recognized as the inventor of two patents – a food container and a light beacon​​​​.

Central to this case was the interpretation of the Patents Act of 1977. The act requires that an “actual deviser” of an invention, identified as a “person,” be named as the inventor in patent applications. This definition became the crux of the debate, as Dr. Thaler asserted that his AI system was the actual deviser of the inventions in question​​.

The Supreme Court unanimously concluded that under the current law, an inventor must be a natural person. This decision was grounded in the legislative context of the Patents Act, which did not envisage AI systems as potential inventors at the time of its drafting. The court also addressed the issue of whether Dr. Thaler could claim the patents by owning DABUS, ultimately dismissing this notion. They reasoned that since DABUS is not a person, it cannot hold or transfer patent rights, and Dr. Thaler, admitting he was not the inventor, could not claim these rights​​​​.

Dr. Thaler’s argument based on the doctrine of accession, which typically applies to tangible property, was also rejected by the court. They held that since an invention is intangible, this principle could not be applied in this context. Consequently, the court supported the earlier decision to treat Dr. Thaler’s applications as withdrawn, as he failed to meet the Patents Act’s requirements​​.

This judgment echoes the traditional interpretation of inventorship and entitlement laws, yet it acknowledges the growing complexity brought about by AI’s role in creative processes. The court did not delve into the factual assertions of DABUS’s autonomous invention capabilities, leaving open questions about AI’s role in future inventive processes. Interestingly, courts in Australia and South Africa have taken different stances, recognizing AI as capable of being named as an inventor. This disparity underscores the evolving and unsettled nature of AI’s legal status in intellectual property realms globally​​.

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