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AI Can’t Patent Inventions, UK Supreme Court Rules

UK Supreme Court

The British court has ruled that a scientist cannot patent inventions created by an AI.

The ruling by the U.K. Supreme Court is a “landmark” decision in the U.K. about whether artificial intelligence (AI) can own patent rights, Reuters reported Wednesday (Dec. 20).

According to the report, computer scientist Stephen Thaler had wanted patents in the U.K. for two inventions he says were crafted by DABUS, his “creativity machine.” However, the country’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) denied the application, saying that inventors must be a human or a company and not a machine. 

The U.K. Supreme Court sided with the IPO, with Judge David Kitchin writing that the case was “not concerned with the broader question whether technical advances generated by machines acting autonomously and powered by AI should be patentable.”

Thaler’s attorneys replied by saying the ruling shows that British patent law is “currently wholly unsuitable for protecting inventions generated autonomously by AI machines and as a consequence wholly inadequate in supporting any industry that relies on AI in the development of new technologies.”

Thaler’s inventions have also been the subject of a court battle in the U.S., with the nation’s Supreme Court declining to hear his case in April. 

Thaler has also sued the U.S. Copyright Office after it refused to copyright AI-generated artwork made by his algorithm. A federal judge rejected that claim in August.

Judge Beryl Howell wrote in her August ruling that copyrights have never been granted to a work that was “absent any guiding human hand,” and added that “human authorship is a bedrock requirement of copyright.”

Still, her decision also noted that society is “approaching new frontiers in copyright,” where artists will use AI as a tool to create new work, as Howell wrote. She added that this would lead to “challenging questions regarding how much human input is necessary” to copyright AI-created art, pointing out that AI models are often trained using existing works.

PYMNTS looked at the complexities of copyrighting AI-created materials in October in a conversation with Ryan Abbott, professor of law and health sciences at the University of Surrey.

He noted that different countries have different approaches. While British law explicitly states that computer-generated works are eligible for copyright protection, U.S. law is less clear.

One of the big questions surrounding the issue, Abbot said, is “how does the use of AI change human-centric standards that we’ve had in the law for a long time? What does it mean for a work to be original? Can we protect style?”

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