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US Patent Act is Clear: Inventors Must be Natural Persons

The long-running saga of Dr. Stephen Thaler and his legal team attempting to name a computer system (“DABUS”) as an inventor on patent applications around the world continues, but seems to reaching the end of the line in several major jurisdictions, following the recent EPO and Australian appeal decisions.

In one of the bluntest appeal decisions on the topic so far, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) in the US last week dismissed Dr. Thaler’s second-tier appeal from the US PTO on the question of whether an AI machine can be an inventor.

The CAFC concluded that there was no room for any ambiguity or interpretation in the wording of the Patent Act and therefore that “Congress has determined that only a natural person can be an inventor, so AI cannot be.” The court further noted that it was unnecessary to consider the “metaphysical matters” of “the nature of invention, or the rights, if any, of AI systems” because the Patent Act expressly provides that inventors are “individuals”, a term which has been held by the Supreme Court and defined in other US statutes to mean a human being or a natural person. That was, for the CAFC, the start and end of the issue and the appeal was therefore dismissed and the US PTO’s original decisions maintained.