Can an artificially intelligent system be recognized as an inventor by patent offices? This question arose in October 2019, when an Artificial Intelligence (AI) expert, a professor, and a group of attorneys filed patent applications listing DABUS (an AI system) as an inventor.
DABUS was created to ingest data about a range of subjects and create ideas for products that it had not seen before. Its creations include a specially shaped container lid designed for robotic gripping and a flashlight system for attracting human attention in emergencies.
The group representing DABUS made the analogy that if a professor taught a Ph.D. student something, and the student goes on to make a final complex idea, the professor is not an inventor on the student’s patent; They argue the same logic applies to an invention created by an AI system. Many companies may also be discouraged from using AI systems in this capacity if there are risks associated with securing patents from their inventions.
However, if AI systems were allowed to be named as inventors on patent applications, United States law would have to be reformed, and many practical issues would arise. The United States Patent and Trademark Office sought input before making a decision on the subject. In general, many of the institutions that provided their input seem to be against an AI inventor – at least for now.
The American Intellectual Property Law Association explained in a letter that “Changing the ownership regime to allow an AI entity to own a patent would raise broad fundamental issues relating to incentives for inventing and ‘AI personhood’. . .” This situation would also raise practical issues because the AI system could not be deposed about its contributions as inventor. It is also unclear how an AI inventor could meet the patent application requirements (such as submitting a statement confirming they believe they are the original inventor).
An even bigger issue would be if the court decides to not award the patent at all (similar to the case of the monkey who took selfies with a photographer’s camera, and the court refused to award copyrights of the photos to the monkey and the photographer). Here, the patent office may decide that, since the AI system did the work that was supposed to be done by a human, and the AI system cannot be considered an inventor, the patent cannot be issued.