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High Court dismisses robot inventor appeal

By Jemma Slingo  >>

An artificial intelligence expert who tried to establish that a machine invented two products has seen his appeal dismissed by the High Court, following a decision that robots cannot be regarded as inventors under the Patents Act.

Dr Stephen Thaler argued that a food container and an emergency warning light were invented by a ‘creativity machine’ called DABUS. On patent forms filed last year – which were challenged by the Intellectual Property Office – Thaler attributed inventorship to the AI machine and said he acquired the right to grant of the patents in question by ownership of DABUS.

In December, the Intellectual Property Office decided that since DABUS is a machine and not a natural person, it cannot be regarded as an inventor for the purposes of section 7 and 13 of the Patents Act 1977.

In his decision – which was subsequently appealed by Thaler – the hearing officer stated: ‘I agree with the applicant that inventors other than natural persons were not contemplated when the European Patent Convention was drafted and also that this was never contemplated when the Patents Act was drafted.

‘Given this, there is a clear expectation that the inventor and person for the purpose of sections 7 and 13 respectively are one and the same, namely a natural person – a human and not an AI machine. There has never been any indication from the courts that this is an incorrect interpretation and it is settled law that an inventor cannot be a corporate body.’

He also stated that Thaler is not entitled to apply for a patent simply by virtue of ownership of DABUS.

In a judgment handed down this week, the High Court upheld the Intellectual Property Office’s decision, dismissing Thaler’s appeal.

The Hon. Mr Justice Marcus Smith concluded: ‘I do not consider that there is any other compelling reason to give permission to appeal. The questions raised by the appellant are undoubtedly interesting: but they are interesting in terms of legal policy regarding artificial intelligence and raise no matter of interest on an appeal.’

In its 2019 decision, the Intellectual Property Office predicted that inventions created by AI machines are likely to become more prevalent in future and ‘there is a legitimate question as to how or whether the patent system should handle such inventions’.

‘I have found that the present system does not cater for such inventions and it was never anticipated that it would, but times have changed and technology has moved on. It is right that this is debated more widely and that any changes to the law be considered in the context of such a debate, and not shoehorned arbitrarily into existing legislation,’ the hearing officer stated.

(Courtesy: The Law Gazette Society)