The UK Supreme Court has ruled that artificial intelligence (AI) cannot be granted patents, affirming that an inventor must be a person or group of persons under existing laws. The case involves Missouri inventor and AI researcher Stephen Thaler, who filed for two patent rights for ideas generated by his AI system, Dabus, in 2018. The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) denied the patent in 2019, arguing that an inventor must be a person. Thaler appealed against the IPO’s decision at the UK Supreme Court, which upheld the denial, stating that Dabus “is not a person, let alone a natural person, and it did not devise any relevant invention.”
The court’s decision is based on the 1977 British Patents Act, which requires applicants to identify any “person or persons” as the inventor. Thaler, while applying for his patents titled “food container” and “devices and methods for attracting enhanced attention,” named his AI system as the sole owner of the patent, stating that he personally was not the inventor. The IPO rejected his applications, arguing that Dabus is not a person and that Thaler was not entitled to apply for the patents by making the AI system the sole owner.
The Supreme Court echoed the IPO’s conclusions and rejected Thaler’s argument that he has property rights in the products of his AI machine, comparing it to a farmer owning the calf birthed by their cow. The court emphasized that existing property law doctrines related to tangible property cannot be applied to “concepts for new and non-obvious devices and methods” generated by AI. The decision highlights the current limitations of patent laws in recognizing AI as an inventor or capable of owning intellectual property, and it suggests that changes may be needed in the future, potentially driven by policymakers rather than the judiciary.
This decision is in line with similar outcomes in the United States, where the Supreme Court declined to hear Thaler’s challenge to a lower court’s ruling that existing statute requires inventors to be natural persons. The legal framework rooted in historical context is seen as a potential hindrance to recognizing AI as an inventor or property owner. As AI technology evolves rapidly, there may be a need for policymakers to address these legal limitations and adapt patent laws to the changing landscape of innovation driven by artificial intelligence.