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AI can't be legally credited as an inventor, says USPTO

It ruled that only 'natural persons' are eligible.
Kris Holt, @krisholt
April 29, 2020
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Artificial intelligence has myriad use cases, but it turns out inventing devices isn't one of them -- at least in the eyes of the US Patent and Trademark Office. The agency issued a decision on two patent applications for devices created by an AI system, determining that only humans can legally be credited as inventors.

The items in question -- an emergency flashlight and a shape-shifting drink container -- were the brainchildren of a system called DABUS. The Artificial Inventor Project filed the applications last year on behalf of the AI’s creator, Stephen Thaler. AIP lawyers argued that, since Thaler didn't have any expertise in either of those types of products and couldn't have come up with them by himself, DABUS should be the credited inventor.

The USPTO wasn't buying it. The agency noted that US patent law uses pronouns and language such as "whoever" to refer to inventors. It wrote that "only natural persons may be named as an inventor in a patent application" as the law stands. The UK Intellectual Property Office and the European Patent Office previously rejected AIP applications on similar grounds, despite their belief that the devices were patent-worthy.

There was no suggestion, however, that DABUS itself might obtain any patents. Thaler himself was the applicant. "Machines should not own patents,” the AIP says on its website. “They do not have legal personality or independent rights, and cannot own property."

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