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Landmark Thaler AI patent case to be heard by UK Supreme Court

Supreme Court London_25558355_Large

The question of whether artificial intelligence (AI) systems can own and transfer patent rights in the UK is to be considered by the UK Supreme Court in a hearing on Thursday 2 March.

Technologist and entrepreneur Dr. Stephen Thaler is seeking to seeking to patent inventions that he claims were derived from an AI machine called 'DABUS'. He believes the owner of AI systems should be the default owner of patents for inventions derived from those systems, and that it should be possible to name those AI systems as inventors on patent applications. However, the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO) disagreed, and its findings have subsequently been upheld by both the High Court and Court of Appeal in London, albeit on a split basis in the appeal court.

Thaler has now appealed to the UK Supreme Court, which will have to determine whether the UK Patents Act 1977 requires a natural person – i.e. a human or a company, but not a machine – to be named as the inventor in all cases; whether a patent can be granted without a named human inventor; and whether, in the case in the case of an invention made by an AI machine, the owner, creator and user of that AI machine is entitled to the grant of a patent for that invention. 

Thaler’s case will be heard at the court over a single day on 2 March. A ruling is not anticipated for a number of months.

Thaler’s case has been litigated in various major patent jurisdictions, including the European Patent Office (EPO), the US and Australia. The UK Supreme Court will be the first supreme-level court in the world to hear Thaler’s arguments and consider the issues, however.

Patent law expert Mark Marfé said the UK ruling will be of major significance to businesses globally at a time of significant AI-related innovation in the market.

“Ultimately, for a machine to be named as an inventor of a patent, patent laws will need to be amended,” Marfé said.

“If the law on this issue is not aligned on an international basis this would negatively impact companies with global patent strategies. While legislative change is expected to be slow, it is possible that the progress of the case before the UK Supreme Court may prompt earlier international conversations. As generative AI technologies, such as DALL-E, ChatGPT and BioGPT develop further, these questions are becoming increasingly important and so the eyes of the AI world will be on the UK Supreme Court.” 

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