Team seeks patents for inventions created by DABUS, an AI

Legal experts have successfully filed the first patent applications in the UK for two inventions that were created autonomously by an artificial intelligence (AI) named DABUS without a human inventor.

The multi-disciplinary team was led by Prof. Ryan Abbott at the University of Surrey in the UK. He is a professor in law and health sciences in the school of law at the university.

DABUS generated output that became the basis for two patent applications. One application is for a new type of beverage container based on fractal geometry and the other is for a device for attracting enhanced attention, possibly helpful in search and rescue operations.

The UK Intellectual Property Office and the European Patent Office have said that the applications appear to be new, inventive and industrially applicable—the bases for an invention to receive a patent.

But the matter of whether an AI can be an inventor is still an open question, and one that might not easily be solved. No country has a law specifically covering whether an invention generated by an AI can be patented or who or what qualifies as an inventor. Also, laws don’t indicate who owns an AI-generated invention.

In traditional patent law, an inventor becomes the default owner of a patent. Most governments restrict inventorship to natural persons in order to prevent corporate inventorship, but the research team argues that such an approach shouldn’t be used to deny protection for AI-generated works.

In the patent applications for the DABUS inventions, the AI has “functionally fulfilled the conceptual act that forms the basis for inventorship,” said Prof. Abbott in a statement. “There would be no question the AI was the only inventor if it was a natural person. The right approach is for the AI to be listed as the inventor and for the AI’s owner to be the assignee or owner of its patents.”

Such an approach would reward innovations and “keep the patent system focused on promoting invention by encouraging the development of inventive AI, rather than creating obstacles,” Abbott added.

Abbott and his team believe that powerful AI systems could eventually find cures for cancer or find workable solutions for reversing climate change. “If outdated IP laws around the world don’t respond quickly to the rise of the inventive machine, the lack of incentive for AI developers could stand in the way of a new era of spectacular human endeavor,” Abbott said.

The applications on behalf of the DABUS inventions may force patent offices, courts and lawmakers to update patent practices. Abbott noted that there have been claims of AI generating inventions for decades, but an AI inventor has never been disclosed in a patent application.

DABUS was created by Dr. Stephen Thaler, president and CEO of Imagination Engines, based in St. Charles, Missouri. Thaler holds a PhD in physics from the University of Missouri and has a long career in researching applications for neural networks.  

DABUS is a “Creativity Machine” that has a system of many neural networks that generate new ideas by altering the network interconnections. Also, a second system of neural networks detects critical consequences of the new ideas and reinforces them based on whether they are novel or important or could be useful or valuable.

“Modern AI may fundamentally change how research and development takes place,” said Prof. Adrian Hilton, director of the university’s Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing. “In some cases, AI is no longer a tool, even a very sophisticated tool. In some cases, AI is automating innovation.”

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