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In a landmark ruling, Justice Beach of the Federal Court of Australia has held that artificial intelligence (AI) is capable of being named as an inventor of a patent.

This innovative case has been brewing for quite some time, starting with the developments of Dr Stephen Thaler and his program known as the Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience (DABUS). According to Dr Thaler, DABUS could create inventions and has already created inventions, with this notion seeing corroboration from the Artificial Inventor Project (AIP). As such, the AIP filed dozens of patent applications across the globe to argue in favour of DABUS’s capabilities. Notably, these applications did not challenge the capability of DABUS to invent but rather sought to determine whether a non-human entity may be granted a registrable patent application. However, due to the phrasing of the Patent Acts 1990 (Cth) under Australian law, DABUS’ patent application was initially denied by the Commissioner of Patents as it did not name a human inventor.

Following judicial review sought in the Federal Court, Justice Beach focused on the overarching objective of the Patents Act 1990 (Cth) – to ‘promote economic wellbeing through technological innovation and the transfer and dissemination of technology’. Firstly, his Honour commented on the fact that there was no specific provision in the law that denied an AI as being an inventor, nor was there a requirement for only humans to apply for patents. This issue became more pronounced with the invention itself, because if the AI was not the inventor, then who could claim priority as inventor down the line. His Honour ultimately held that an AI can be named as the inventor of a patent application but cannot be the applicant nor grantee of a patent. Although, a person, corporate or otherwise, may file an application for a patent invented by AI.

It is fantastic to see Australia make headway in terms of AI innovation; however, many commentators are now fearing future repercussions. Most notably that an AI may now be afforded the status of a legal person, granting it proprietary rights. Additionally, improper naming of inventors between AI and humans may unduly invalidate patents. This case is sure to impact the technological and scientific industry and it will only be a matter of time before we see a similar case makes its way to court.   

For the full reading of the judgment, see here.

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