Inventors Must Be Humans, Federal Circuit Rules in Blow to AI

Computer scientist Stephen Thaler was dealt another blow in his battle for artificial intelligence machines to be recognized as inventors on patents after the Federal Circuit found that inventors must be humans.

The term “individual” in the Patent Act refers only to humans, meaning an AI doesn’t count as an inventor on a patentable invention, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled Friday. The decision lines up with courts around the world that have refused to accept Thaler’s argument.

The panel did not need to question whether AI should have rights as an inventor, Judge Leonard P. Stark wrote in the precedential opinion.

“However, we do not need to ponder these metaphysical matters,” Stark wrote. “Instead, our task begins—and ends—with consideration of the applicable definition in the relevant statute.”

The case has served as a test in worldwide jurisdictions over whether an AI system can be named as an inventor on a patent. Thaler is also suing the US Copyright Office over the denial of his copyright registration for not having a human author.

In the patent case, Thaler says his “creativity machine,” called DABUS, is the sole inventor on patent applications for a food container and a light beacon. The US Patent and Trademark Office denied the applications on the basis that there must be a human inventor for an invention to be patentable.

Thaler argued to the Federal Circuit that the term “individual” in the Patent Act should be interpreted broadly to fulfill the law’s goal of promoting innovation. Judges heavily questioned Thaler’s side on the plain language meaning of “individual” and how there could really be no human involvement in an invention.

Chief Judge Kimberly A. Moore also served on the panel, along with Judge Richard G. Taranto.

Brown, Neri, Smith & Khan LLP represents Thaler. The Justice Department represents the government.

The case is Thaler v. Vidal, Fed. Cir., No. 21-2347, opinion 8/5/22.

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