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Retro Robot plays with wooden ABC cubes on floore. 3D rendering. Education scientist robot student
Retro Robot plays with wooden ABC cubes on floore. 3D rendering. Education scientist robot student Photo by Optinik on Adobe Stock

Ruling: AIs Can’t Hold Patents

The US Patent Office has ruled that only "natural persons" can own patents, not machines

Under the USPO ruling, an artifical intelligence cannot be a legal “inventor”: “The USPTO has published a petition decision explaining that, under current law, only natural persons may be named as an inventor in a patent application.”

Among the USPTO’s arguments is the fact that US patent law repeatedly refers to inventors using humanlike terms such as “whoever” and pronouns like “himself” and “herself.” The group behind the applications had argued that the law’s references to an inventor as an “individual” could be applied to a machine, but the USPTO said this interpretation was too broad. “Under current law, only natural persons may be named as an inventor in a patent application,” the agency concluded.

Jon Porter, “US patent office rules that artificial intelligence cannot be a legal inventor” at The Verge

Britain and the EU have issued similar rulings. Although this will doubtless be seen as a blow to robot rights, according to MIT Technology Review, the original intention of the Artificial Inventor Project, which made the application, was in part to ensure recognition of the contribution of hundreds or thousands of people whose joint work enables the AI to function:

But if humans can’t be listed as inventors because they weren’t intimately involved, and the AI can’t be listed as an inventor either, then the invention may not be patentable at all. This, [patent lawyer Ryan] Abbott suggests, could be problematic. It could prevent companies from investing money in AI technologies and prevent breakthroughs in important areas like drug discovery. While there may not be much social good to be gained by giving rights to an AI, he says, there is good to be gained by changing intellectual-property law to acknowledge its contribution.

Angela Chen, “Can an AI be an inventor? Not yet.” at Technology Review

The Artificial Inventor Project sounds somewhat like the 2018 EU proposal to make machines legal persons, so as to assign legal responsibility, in case the machines’ actions became, in Canadian futurist George Dvorsky’s words, “increasingly incomprehensible to the puny humans who manufacture and use them.”

An issue left untouched is whether AI can, in principle, be creative in any event. There is no real evidence for that.

Confusion sometimes arises because the importance of originality is overlooked. British novelist, George Orwell, author of 1984, (1949) thought that machines could write novels, for example, provided they were mere potboilers that entertained the masses without provoking them with any new ideas. His female lead Julia minds just such a machine as her job. Creativity, as Orwell implicitly recognized, does not follow computational rules. The technology regurgitates, it does not create.

The big worry, perhaps, is not being replaced by one’s tools but being ruled by them.


Further reading on AI and creativity:

Should AI-Written News Stories Have Bylines? Whose? Like it or not, AI is here to stay. So, how do we make the best use of it in writing?

New AI Can Create—and Detect—Fake News
But how good is it at either task? We tested some copy

Fan tries programming AI jazz, gets lots and lots of AI… Jazz is spontaneous, but spontaneous noise is not jazz (Brendan Dixon)


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Ruling: AIs Can’t Hold Patents