In a groundbreaking decision, the UK’s highest court has ruled that artificial intelligence (AI) cannot be listed as an inventor on patent applications. The verdict follows a protracted legal battle initiated by Stephen Thaler, a U.S. computer scientist, who sought to register patents for inventions attributed to his AI system named “DABUS.”
Thaler’s patent applications, filed in 2018 for a unique food packaging shape and a distinctive flashing light, turned heads by listing the AI machine as the inventor instead of Thaler himself. The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) initially rejected the applications, citing the requirement for a “natural person” to be named as the inventor.
Despite multiple appeals by Thaler, including petitions to the UK’s High Court and Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the principle that an inventor must be a “natural person” under existing patent law. The court clarified that it was not passing judgment on the broader question of whether inventions by AI should be patentable.
Lord Kitchin, delivering the judgment, stated, “We conclude that an ‘inventor’ must be a natural person. Only a person can devise an invention.” The court also rejected Thaler’s argument that, as the owner of DABUS, he was entitled to file patent applications for AI-generated inventions.
This decision sets a significant precedent as the role of AI in generating innovations becomes more prominent. Thaler’s case, though a setback for him, reflects the evolving legal landscape surrounding AI-generated inventions. Similar debates have emerged globally, with Thaler also facing challenges in the U.S. courts, where the Supreme Court declined to hear his case earlier this year.
While the UK Supreme Court’s ruling establishes that current patent law deems AI incapable of being an inventor, it also raises questions about how the legal system should handle creations by AI. The IPO expressed recognition of these “legitimate questions” and emphasized the need to review relevant laws.
This decision aligns with global trends, as courts in Europe, Australia, and the U.S. have similarly ruled that inventors must be natural persons. Intellectual property experts suggest that while AI is currently considered a tool and not an agent, the landscape may evolve in the medium term.
As AI continues to push the boundaries of innovation, legal frameworks around patents and intellectual property will likely undergo further scrutiny and adaptation to accommodate the changing dynamics of technological advancements.