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UK Supreme Court rules AI can't be a patent inventor, 'must be a natural person'

The ruling blocks Dr. Stephen Thaler's years-long attempt to register patents for his AI "creativity machine."

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AI may or may not take people's jobs in years to come, but in the meantime, there's one thing they cannot obtain: patents. Dr. Stephen Thaler has spent years trying to get patents for two inventions created by his AI "creativity machine" DABUS. Now, the United Kingdom's Supreme Court has rejected his appeal to approve these patents when listing DABUS as the inventor, Reuters reports.

The court's rationale stems from a provision in UK patent law that states, "an inventor must be a natural person." The ruling stipulated that the appeal was unconcerned with whether this should change in the future. "The judgment establishes that UK patent law is currently wholly unsuitable for protecting inventions generated autonomously by AI machines," Thaler's lawyers said in a statement.

Thaler first attempt to register the patents — for a food container and a flashing light — was in 2018, as owner of the machine that invented them. However, the UK's Intellectual Property Office said he must list an actual human being on the application, and when he refused, it withdrew his application. Thaler fought the decision in the High Court and then the Court of Appeal, with Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing stating, "Only a person can have rights. A machine cannot."

Thaler, an American, also submitted the two products to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which rejected his application. Plus, he previously sued the US Copyright Office (USCO) for not awarding him the copyright for a piece of art DABUS created. The case reached the US District Court of Columbia, with Judge Beryl Howell's ruling explaining, "Human authorship is a bedrock requirement of copyright." Thaler has argued that this provision is unconstitutional, but the US Supreme Court declined to hear his case, ending any further chances to argue his stance. While the UK and US have rejected Thaler's petitions, he has succeeded in countries such as Australia and South Africa.