Can AI Be an Inventor and Obtain a Patent?
Everywhere you look today, there seems to be a new application for artificial intelligence (AI). This frontier is the next great one in technology. There have been legal questions about whether AI can qualify as an inventor under federal patent laws. According to a federal appeals court, the answer is no.
In this case, the proposed patent listed an AI system as an inventor. The examiner denied the application for the patent, and the applicant appealed. The issue, in this case, is who can be considered an “inventor” within the meaning of federal patent laws. Only an inventor may obtain a patent for an invention.
The appeals court sidestepped the complicated question of “the nature of the invention or the rights, if any, of AI systems” and instead focused on whether an AI system is a human being. The clear answer to that question is no. The Patent Act reserves a patent for an “individual.” According to the court, Congress intended that an inventor only be a human being.
The appellant has similarly sought to obtain patents in the name of an AI system in other countries, and the licensing agencies all reached a similar result. The only jurisdiction that has granted him a patent in South Africa, and the agency did not reach any specific conclusion about AI. Instead, the country just has an easier path to a patent than in many other countries.
AI will lead to many complex patent questions in the coming years. Courts will be called on to decide many issues of first impression as the functions supported by AI diversify.
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