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Patent Applications Naming Artificial Intelligence System as Inventor Raise Intriguing Questions

In August 2019, a team of patent attorneys led by Ryan Abbott, a law professor at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, filed patent applications in various jurisdictions, including the United States, naming a sole inventor: DABUS, an artificial intelligence system developed by the physicist and computer scientist, Dr. Stephen Thaler. Some of the patent applications relate to a new type of beverage container design based on fractal geometry while others to a device for attracting search and rescue teams, which flashes a light in a rhythm that mimics neural activity. According to the University, if patents are granted, they would be the first patents ever issued with an artificial intelligence system as the sole inventor. These applications raise novel questions of U.S. patent law: Can a U.S. patent issue designating an artificial intelligence system as the inventor? If so, what would that mean for the rights and obligations that normally apply to inventors in the United States? If not, how should the law handle.

inventions made by artificial intelligence? These patent applications are the latest in a series relating to Dr. Thaler and artificial intelligence. In 1998, he received his first U.S. patent for an artificial intelligence system he called the “Creativity Machine.” According to Dr. Thaler and Professor Abbott, the Creativity Machine already has invented the claimed subject matter of another U.S. patent, U.S. Pat. No. 5,852,815, directed to certain neural networks. Dr. Thaler has indicated that, although he is listed as the sole inventor on that patent, the real inventor is the Creativity Machine. See Abbott, Ryan, “I Think, Therefore I Invent: Creative Computers and the Future of Patent Law,” Boston College Law Review, Vol. 57:1079 (2016). In addition, Dr. Thaler has said that his artificial intelligence systems have created new innovations, such as the cross-bristle design of the Oral-B CrossAction toothbrush.

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