AI Systems are not humans! US Court denies the patent right to machines

AI Systems are not humans! US Court denies the patent right to machines

US law allows only 'natural persons' to be registered as individuals; individuals who can take an oath swearing their paternity to the product

Even as the debate around AI gaining sentience hasn't subsided, artificial intelligence. US patent court struck down Stephen Thaler's petition seeking a patent for the products developed by the AI system purportedly developed by him. CAFC, the US appeals court, in Thaler V. Vidal's case ruled out the machine's candidature to qualify as an inventor under the US Patent Act. The decision is in similar lines to the series of judgments delivered by courts from around the world for the same case. The legal tiff dates back to 2019 when he filed for a patent for the two products, an AI food container developed based on fractal geometry and a torch light. Instead of using his name in the patent document, he mentioned the neural network's name, DABUS, claiming that the products are its brainchildren.

Back then US Patent and Trademark Office rejected his plea, reasoning that US laws allow only 'natural persons' to be registered as individuals; individuals who can take an oath swearing their paternity to the product, which machines or computer software are incapable of. This time the Court of Appeals, supporting the USPTO's stand, was unambiguous in stating the obsolescence of "metaphysical matters" about "the nature of invention or rights, if any, of AI systems." It stressed the repeated reference to the term "individuals" is very well in alignment with its interpretation. "While we do not decide whether an AI system can form beliefs, nothing in our record shows that one can, as reflected in the fact that Thaler submitted the requisite statements himself, purportedly on DABUS' behalf," CAFC explained. Cutting the game to chase, the judgment hinges on legal requirements which has little to do with the court's understanding of AI's capability.

Refusing to give up on his mission, he wants to contest the judgment in the US Supreme court. He says, "The court ignores the purpose of the Patent Act and the outcome that AI-generated inventions are now unpatentable, will have real negative social consequences." This brings us to the question if artificial intelligence deserves patent rights and why. 

When Thaler says, negative consequences, he means the patent laws being misused under the cover of patent law. For example, AI has been responsible for inventions in the medical field which left unpatented could give leeway to idea hoggers, leaving businesses and funders discouraged to pursue research, preventing cutting-edge research to happen in the first place. Experts too are of the opinion that instead of rewriting the IP Acts completely, it would be a reasonable option to create a custom law including artificial intelligence, because, at the end of the day, AI learns by itself and makes decisions for itself. As artificial intelligence is becoming an omnipresent and inevitable part of day-to-day lives, it is highly imperative to consider if AI qualifies to be considered as an entity similar to a POSA (person with Ordinary Skills in Art). The lack of benchmarks to determine if AI's invention is unique might be another challenge, given the AI's ability to constantly improve itself.

This argument finds support in Australian Court's initial assumptions that led to a favorable judgment only to be overruled later by the appeals court. The judges considered the possibility of AI setting its goal, freedom to choose options and pathways towards the goals, and the ability to trawl for data it requires. The court did spell out why AI's autonomy is not a misnomer, as long as artificial neural networks can choose the algorithms and interact with other networks. If only this argument could be taken forward to establish AI as a legit entity – which would probably be Thaler's next line of argument – the question of 'persona' could be put to rest.

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