Court: AI Systems Can't Create Patentable Inventions

An artificial intelligence robot touching a futuristic data screen.
(Image credit: Yuichiro Chino/Getty Images)

A federal appeals court has ruled that, for the purposes of obtaining a patent, an artificial intelligence (AI) software program does not qualify as an "inventor," which the court concludes, at least for now, must be flesh and blood.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which handles patent cases (and is different from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit), said the statute is clear.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), pointing out that statute defines an inventor as  a "natural person," had denied a patent application that had simply said “the invention [was] generated by artificial intelligence,” concluding it did not have a legitimate inventor's name and was thus incomplete.

Stephen Thaler, who had sought the patent, said that he develops and runs AI systems that generate patentable inventions saying he had not personally "contribute[d] to the conception" of the inventions.

Thaler appealed the USPTO decision to a U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which agreed with the USPTO. Thaler then went to the appeals court.

That court said Friday (August 5) that it did not have to get into "the nature of invention or the rights, if any, of AI systems," but needed only to look to the statutory language, as USPTO and the lower court had done. The appeals court concluded that "the Patent Act requires that inventors must be natural persons; that is, human beings." ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.