An artificial intelligence (AI) system has developed interlocking food containers, which are easy for robots to hold, as well as a warning light that blinks in a rhythm that is hard to ignore.
The UK’s Patents Act 1977 currently requires an inventor to be a person, and patent regulators are adamant that the development of a new product or concept must be attributed to a human. Great complications could stem from recognising corporate inventorship.
But two professors from the University of Surrey believe that this is an outdated idea, and that the AI system should rightfully be recognised as the inventor.
The professors teamed up with the Missouri-based inventor of Dabus AI to file patents in the system’s name with the relevant authorities in the UK, Europe and US.
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And it could see patent offices refusing to assign any intellectual property rights for AI-generated creations.
Dabus was created to devise and develop new ideas, rather than solve particular problems like most other AI systems. It deals with “what is traditionally considered the mental part of the inventive act”, according to its creator, Stephen Thaler.
Ryan Abbott, a law professor at the University of Surrey, told BBC News: “These days, you commonly have AIs writing books and taking pictures – but if you don’t have a traditional author, you cannot get copyright protection in the US.
“So with patents, a patent office might say, ‘If you don’t have someone who traditionally meets human-inventorship criteria, there is nothing you can get a patent on.’
“In which case, if AI is going to be how we’re inventing things in the future, the whole intellectual property system will fail to work.”
Therefore, AI should be recognised as the inventor, he suggests, and whoever the AI belonged to should be the patent’s owner, unless they sold it on.
Abbott believes that lawmakers might have to wade in on the matter but warns that it could be well into the mid 2020s before the matter is settled.
The European Patent Office, meanwhile, has noted that it would be a complex matter.
A spokesperson for the office said: “It’s a global consensus that an inventor can only be a person who makes a contribution to the invention’s conception in the form of devising an idea or a plan in the mind.
“The current state of technological development suggests that, for the foreseeable future, AI is a tool used by a human inventor.
“Any change would have implications reaching far beyond patent law, ie to authors’ rights under copyright laws, civil liability and data protection.”
A spokesperson for the Intellectual Property Office added: “The Government believes that AI technology could increase the UK’s GDP by 10% in the next decade, and the IPO is focused on responding to the challenges that come with this growth.”