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US Supreme Court snubs that guy who wants AI recognized as patent inventors

No surprise for a panel that appears to enjoy taking away rights rather than granting them

The US Supreme Court has refused to hear a case arguing that AI algorithms should be recognized and protected by law as inventors on patent filings.

This all stems from Stephen Thaler, a computer scientist and founder of Imagination Engines, who sued the head of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2020 after his patent applications were rejected. Thaler had filed them on behalf of his AI system named DABUS, claiming the software came up with the idea of a fractal food container and a unique pattern for an emergency light beacon that he wished to patent. Thaler put DABUS down as the inventor in the submissions.

The USPTO, however, didn't accept Thaler's paperwork since it could only consider inventions from "natural persons" and not machines. In an attempt to challenge the decision, Thaler and his lawyer Ryan Abbott sued Andrei Iancu, who was the director of the patent office at the time, in federal court in eastern Virginia. The lawsuit was later directed against Katherine Vidal, who took over to lead the office in 2022.

When judges ruled in favour of the USPTO and Vidal, Thaler and Abbott took their case to the US Court of Appeals and lost there too. Undeterred, they turned to the Supreme Court, the highest court in America capable of overturning the initial decision. But their petition was denied on Monday, meaning the Supremes will not hear the case and Thaler must accept that DABUS cannot be an inventor and its creations cannot be legally protected as the situation stands. 

"We are disappointed by the decision, which we believe leaves a Federal Circuit precedent in place that will serve as a major disincentive to certain uses of AI in innovation," Abbott told The Register.

"It is now up to Congress to decide whether to change the law to allow inventions to be protected regardless of how AI is used in the inventive process, and to help the US maintain its position as a world leader in innovation."

Today's US laws state that only "individuals" can be inventors or co-inventors, and individuals can only be people. Corporations, for example, cannot be inventors either. Thaler believes that laws need to change and society must adapt as AI advances. 

He previously argued that failing to accept patent applications for software generated by neural networks will hamper progress since the IP will be withheld from developers who may be inspired to build upon it all and create further inventions. Accepting AI algorithms as inventors would also stop humans from stealing ideas from software and passing them as their own, he said. 

"With the development of DABUS, AI has become sufficiently advanced to become conscious, sentient, and truly creative. It will take time for the current state-of-art to sink in, for all concerned," he told The Register.

Thaler and Abbott also have a pending case challenging similar laws in the UK with that country's Supreme Court, and expect a decision later this year. They also have an ongoing case against the US Copyright Office. ®

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