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We could state for a fact that, at least for now, majority of humans prefer person-to-person contact over machine-to-person one. However, machines, or robots, if you prefer, have been on the rise for quite a while now and despite exponential progress that AI industry’s been facing during the last decade, the grip of pandemic might accelerate the development processes even more. With AI becoming more and more advanced and independent, the official rulling of whether AI can be (legally) listed as an inventor was only a matter of time. Well, this time has come, as US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)’s recently rulled, that AI systems cannot be credited as an inventor in a patent.

The decision’s been based on application of 2 patents (food container and a flashlight), created by an AI system called DABUS.

USPTO leaned on grammatical method and concluded, among other arguments, that the US patent law repeatedly refers to humanlike terms and pronouns (whoever, himself, herself …), which could not be used while addressing the AI system, as such interpretation would be too broad[1].

Artificial Inventor Project also submitted the mentioned patents to UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and European Patent Office (EPO), both of which found the inventions patentable. However, DABUS can’t be listed as an inventor due to similar legal interpretations as the USPTO made.

What does that mean for inventions invented by an AI system?

In most legal systems throughout the world, when applying for a patent registration, due to recognition of credit for invention an inventor must be disclosed. Furthermore, an inventor must be a natural person and thus be able to hold both, legal and moral rights, which a computer system cannot obtain[2]. Some may argue that we’re providing rights to robots, but, as Ryan Abbot states in a WIPO Magazine article, »listing an AI as an inventor is not a matter of providing rights to machines, but it would protect the moral rights of traditional human inventors and the integrity of the patent system«.

What about the effect on innovation?

When one files for a patent, they must disclose certain information. Such information helps others to uderstand how the invention works and therefore allows them improve their own knowledge (and, as an idea often triggers another idea, consequently creativity). Without patent registration, there might not be such disclosure, meaning others may not get to know the patent-information and may not be able to improve their knowledge in relevant field, thus slow down their innovation processes. Furthermore, allowing an AI-invented innovation to obtain patents will certainly boost the motivation of people who work in and AI field to furtherly develop their AI system, which could aid innovation for society.

We see that there is an important field of law that will need to be adapted soon. Rigidly insisting on traditional law terms and mechanisms on one hand and the so-called »fourth industrial revolution« in full swing on other, inevitably leads to hotchpotch that, among everything else, leads to legal uncertainity and inhibition development processes that society needs. Regarding the effect on innovation – we, as well as vast majority, believe innovation should be encouraged. But, if, for a brief moment, we play the devil’s advocate – is society really (mentally) ready for more & more & more? Or, better said, is our planet ready for such swift development? We’ll be certainly able to get to know this in the following years.

[1] https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/documents/16524350_22apr2020.pdf?utm_campaign=subscriptioncenter&utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term

[2] Legal aspects of patenting inventions involving artificial intelligence