Can artificial intelligence invent things?  Curious legal case could have big implications for businesses

Can artificial intelligence invent things? Curious legal case could have big implications for businesses

Can a machine be an inventor? After the court says no, a computer scientist tries once again to have an artificial intelligence considered an inventor in the eyes of the law.

In August, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that AI cannot be listed as an inventor on a patent record. The case in court…Thaler v. Lifel – was either a gimmick that could be dismissed by a simple reading of US patent law, or a gimmick that got to the heart of a metaphysical question with crucial implications for the future of innovation.

In Thaler vs. VidalStephen Thaler has challenged the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s refusal to issue patent registration for an invention that Thaler claims was created by an artificial intelligence device called Device for Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience, or DABUS. On September 20, Thaler asked the courts for a new hearing.

The DABUS system is a combination of hardware and software. Thaler calls it “a laboratory for studying the consciousness and sentience of machines”. Physically, DABUS resembles a series of computer screens and processors.

DABUS machine from Thaler. Courtesy of Ste.

“Ironically…the system was not designed to be an invention machine,” Thaler says in an interview. Thaler, the founder of Imagination Engines in St. Charles, Missouri, has worked in laser and nuclear physics for companies such as McDonnell Douglas. DABUS was born from research he has been conducting for decades on the parallels between machine consciousness and human cognition. According to his company websitehe is the inventor of various patents dating from the 1990s for technologies simulating neural networks.

His pursuit of inventor status for DABUS, he said, is part of a larger effort for the legal system to address the implications of artificial intelligence.

“I see all the hallmarks of cognition, awareness and sentience unfolding in my original creative machines, and now on a much larger scale with DABUS,” he said. “And now I saw DABUS contemplating crimes. This will have a major impact on the law, not just on patent law.

Invent a machine that invents things

US patent law requires that applications list all inventors. The inventor is not necessarily the owner of the patent. For example, it is common for employees to assign to their employer the rights to any inventions they make during their employment. The company is therefore the owner of these patents. In Thaler’s patent applications, he was listed as the owner, but stated “the invention [was] generated by artificial intelligence. The inventions themselves seem relatively simple: a drink container and a flashing light to attract attention. According to Thaler, he is not the inventor because inventions are not simply the result of his contribution. “It’s basically an accumulation of knowledge in itself,” says Thaler.

According to the recent court ruling, Thaler’s patent applications did not qualify for registration because an inventor must be an “individual”. According to the court, “individual” means a natural person. “At first, it might appear that resolving this question would involve an abstract inquiry into the nature of the invention or the rights, if any, of AI systems,” the decision noted. “In fact, however, we don’t need to think about these metaphysical questions.”

Thaler’s attorney said he would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Questions about AI and intellectual property often revolve around patent law, which protects new and useful inventions.

Copyright law, which protects creative works like music, visual arts and even software code, is also at issue. US copyright law defines copyrightable works as “original works of authorship,” raising the question of who or what is an author.

In the United States, patent and copyright applications listing DABUS as inventor or author were rejected. In addition to the case challenging Thaler’s patent application, Thaler filed a suit in June in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the denial of a copyright registration. This case is pending.

According to those who believe AI should be recognized by law as capable of creating inventions, Thaler’s cases have serious business implications.

“AI is continually improving and people aren’t,” says Thaler’s attorney, Ryan Abbott, a partner at Los Angeles-based law firm Brown Neri Smith Kahn. He thinks registration bans for AI-created intellectual property could hamper future innovation.

The problem for companies that can’t register AIs as inventors

Corey Salsberg, vice president and head of global affairs at pharmaceutical giant Novartis, agrees. For example, for some time AI has been able to help narrow down data sets in research and development, such as which chemical combinations might be effective in treating cancer. But AI systems that not only evaluate data inputs, but also make connections between data and suggest solutions, are increasingly available, says Salsberg. In other words, while current AI may narrow the list of drug candidates, future AI systems may actually come up with new combinations.

Salsberg worries about what would happen if there wasn’t enough human input to warrant listing someone as an inventor in a patent application. The worst-case scenario according to Salsberg is that companies will not create products like pharmaceuticals if they are unable to file patents.

“In some industries, like drug discovery and reuse or materials engineering, over time AI will increasingly step into the shoes of human inventors,” says Abbott. “And if we don’t decide to protect these things, it will send the message to industry that you can’t use AI in R&D in this way, even if it’s more efficient than a human researcher.”

On the other hand, Patrick Coyne, president of the American Intellectual Property Law Association, asserts that the law is currently sufficient to protect products generated by AI and that the creator of the AI ​​is eligible to be the inventor. Current AI and machine learning technologies depend on human input and therefore a human can be considered the inventor, Coyne says. He calls the DABUS patent case “a nice trial balloon before the Patent Office” and believes companies won’t be driven out of key markets like the United States.

File patents worldwide

Thaler has filed denial of registration challenges in countries around the world. The only country where DABUS is listed as an inventor on a patent is South Africa, where the law does not define “inventor”. In Australia, a judge ruled last year that the country’s patent law did not prohibit AI from being the inventor of a patent, but the decision was reversed earlier this year.

The European Patent Office’s Board of Appeal announced a decision in December that a machine cannot be the inventor of a patented invention. However, in his written notice issued in July, the board appeared to leave room for the patent to list the creator of the AI ​​as the inventor and write an additional statement in the application explaining the role of the AI.

As with most new technologies, questions about the future of AI can affect business decisions. Governments and intellectual property organizations are currently considering measures to address these concerns. For example, the world intellectual property organizationa self-funded agency of the United Nations, has created an issue paper and periodically organizes forums on intellectual property for AI.

Thaler thinks the entire US patent system should be overhauled or even replaced. “I think there’s going to be a revolution in law where they’ll take off the gray powdered wigs, so to speak, and start thinking, using the latest advances in science and technology,” he says. In light of the history of his litigation so far, that future may still be a long way off.

Can artificial intelligence invent things?  Curious legal case could have big implications for businesses

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