Login | December 07, 2022

Robots can’t apply for patents

RICHARD WEINER
Technology for Lawyers

Published: September 30, 2022

Sucks for robots, I guess.
Judge Leonard Stark of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has sided with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the lower federal court that an Artificial Intelligence system cannot apply for a patent on its invention as an artificial being.
The case, Thaler v. Vidal, Case no. 21-2347 (decided 08/05/2022), was brought by an inventor named Stephen Thaler, who had developed an AI algorithm that created various products to solve various problems.
Thaler’s patent theory was that, although he had developed the algos (an AI system he called DABOS), it was the AI that actually created the products. Therefore, he argued, the AI actually invented those products.
In this case, the AI had “invented” two products.
The first was an improved “neural flame.”
The second was a “fractal container,” which was a beverage container based on fractal computations made by DABUS.
Thaler had submitted these inventions in the name of the AI, arguing that DABUS was the actual inventor and that he, the human, could not take credit for the work of someone else under patent law.
The USPTO rejected both applications.
Stark upheld the lower court, stating in a very narrow ruling that the plain text of the Patent Act states that the submitter of the patent must submit an oath to the USPTO that they believe themselves to be the inventor.
Since Thaler did not sign that oath, the Patent Office could not accept the application.
The ruling did not reach the sorts of issues that legal tech heads are interested in, like it did not rule one way or the other whether an AI system is a sentient being.
How about if the AI was named co-inventor?
The case didn’t reach issues like whether an AI system can actually invent something, rather than just running an equation, or if it can take that oath, or assign rights to the invention, or open a bank account in its own name, and all that.
Probably Congress is going to have to reach this issue. Those hearings should be fun.


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