First patent awarded to invention made by AI

Intellectual property officials in South Africa have awarded a patent that names artificial intelligence (AI) as the inventor.

The patent—which was filed by an international team of lawyers and researchers led by the University of Surrey's professor of law and health sciences, Ryan Abbott —is for a food container based on fractal geometry.

This container was designed and created by an AI called DABUS (device for the autonomous bootstrapping of unified sentience.)

Historically, an "inventor" of a patent had to be a human being, although the ownership of that patent is commonly given to the company that employs the inventor. While patent law in many jurisdictions is very specific in how it defines an inventor, the DABUS team is arguing that the status quo is not fit for purpose in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The University of Surrey said that as AI plays an ever-increasing role in the design of ideas, the DABUS case could have “significant repercussions” on intellectual property law.

The DABUS team has similar cases moving through UK, European, US and other court systems.

Earlier this year, the president of the European Patent Office, António Campinos intervened in the European case on the basis that it was “of high importance and general interest.” *

“This is a truly historic case that recognises the need to change how we attribute invention,” said professor Adrian Hilton, director of the Institution for People-Centred AI at the University of Surrey. “We are moving from an age in which invention was the preserve of people to an era where machines are capable of realising the inventive step, unleashing the potential of AI-generated inventions for the benefit of society.”

Hilton added: “The School of Law at the University of Surrey has taken a leading role in asking important philosophical questions such as whether innovation can only be a human phenomenon, and what happens legally when AI behaves like a person. We are delighted our staff and students are at the forefront of these deeply significant debates, and now realities.”

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