The US federal court has confirmed that AI systems cannot patent inventions because they are not humans.
The make a statement is the latest failure in a series of quixotic legal battles by computer scientist Stephen Thaler to copyright and patent the output of several AI software tools he has created.
In 2019, Thaler failed to copyright an image on behalf of an AI system he called Creativity Machine, and that decision was upheld on appeal by the US Copyright Office in 2022. In a parallel case, the US Patent Office ruled in 2020 that Thaler DABUS’ AI system could not be a legal inventor because it was not a “natural person”, and this decision was subsequently upheld by a judge in 2021. Now the federal court has reaffirmed this decision.
Judge Leonard P. Stark writes in the court’s opinion that on the face of it, one might think that solving this case would require “an abstract investigation into the nature of the invention or the rights, if any, of AI systems.” But, says Stark, such ‘metaphysical matters’ can be avoided by simply analyzing the language of the image in question: the Patent Act.
The Patent Act clearly states that only humans can have patents, Stark says. The law refers to patent holders as “individuals,” a term that the Supreme Court says “usually means a human being, a person” (according to “how we use the word in everyday speech”); and uses personal pronouns everywhere — “himself” and “himself” — rather than terms like “self,” which Stark says “non-human inventors would allow” in a lecture.
“Statutes are often open to multiple reasonable readings. Not so here,” Stark writes. “This is a case where the question of legal interpretation begins and ends with the clear meaning of the text… [T]there is no ambiguity about this: the Patent Act requires inventors to be natural persons; that is, people. “
The ruling confirms the status quo for AI patent law in the US and bolsters what is slowly consolidating as international legal opinion. Both The EU Patent Office and Australian Supreme Court have made similar rulings in recent years (although a federal court initially ruled in Australia) favor of AI patent holders).
According to BloombergLawThaler plans to appeal the Circuit Court ruling, with his attorney, Ryan Abbott of Brown, Neri, Smith & Khan LLP, criticizing the court’s “narrow and textual approach” to the Patent Act .
Abbott told the publication: “It ignores the purpose of the Patent Act and the outcome that AI-generated inventions are now not patentable in the United States. That’s an outcome with really negative social consequences.”