News | Published August 09 2019

Academics file first patents for inventions created by AI

An international team of patent attorneys headed by Professor Ryan Abbott, Professor of Law and Health Sciences at the University of Surrey, and including Robert Jehan of Williams Powell, has filed what are believed to be the first ever patent applications for two inventions created autonomously by artificial intelligence.

The AI inventor, named “DABUS” by its creator Stephen Thaler, relies upon a system of neural networks generating new ideas by altering their interconnections. A second system of neural networks detects critical consequences of these potential ideas and reinforces them based upon predicted novelty and salience.

Rapid advances in the field of artificial intelligence have lead to such systems becoming much more than tools manipulated and controlled by humans.

Some systems have now reached the point where they are able to create entirely new products without any human input. 

As this technology continues to progress, questions over whether AI can be credited as an inventor in a patent application have emerged. To date, no AI system has been credited as such.

DABUS has generated output that has formed the basis for two families of patent applications. The first family discloses and claims a new type of beverage container based on fractal geometry, while the other discloses and claims a device for attracting enhanced attention that can help in search and rescue operations.

Following early examination of the applications, the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office has held that both of these concepts appear new, inventive and industrially applicable, which are the primary requirements for a patent to be granted.

Examination of the applications will be concluded after the applications are formally published in  April and May 2020. Applications are also pending in the European Patent Office and the United States Patent and Trade Mark Office. Corresponding applications in other countries are expected to be filed shortly.

No country has a law specifically covering whether an invention generated by an AI system can be patented or who or what qualifies as an inventor.

Traditionally in patent law, the inventor is the person or people who actually devised the inventive concept, who is also the default first owner of the invention.

Most jurisdictions have historically restricted inventorship to natural persons in order to prevent an employer or boss from claiming inventorship and as a consequence denying the true inventor the right of being recognised.

The team handling DABUS’ patent applications believes this principle should not be used to deny protection for AI-generated inventions.

According to Professor Ryan Abbott: “In these applications, the AI has functionally fulfilled the conceptual act that forms the basis for inventorship. There would be no question the AI was the only inventor if it were a natural person. The right approach is for the AI to be listed as the inventor and for the AI’s owner to be the assignee or owner of its patents.

“This will reward innovative activities and keep the patent system focused on promoting invention by encouraging the development of inventive AI, rather than on creating obstacles.

"Powerful AI systems could hold the key to some of the mega challenges facing humanity – from the cure for cancer to workable solutions for reversing climate change.

"But if outdated IP laws around the world don’t respond quickly to the rise of the inventive machine, the lack of incentive for AI developers could stand in the way of a new era of spectacular human endeavour.”

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Authored by

George Salmon
Political Editor
August 09 2019

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