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Robot inventors are on the rise. But are they welcomed by the patent system?

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Tracing the origins of US patent law, Thomas Jefferson stated that an "inventor ought to be allowed a right to the benefit of his invention for some certain time" to encourage "men to pursue ideas which may produce utility." Consistently, under US patent law, an invention requires conception, which is "the formation in the mind of the inventor, of a definite and permanent idea of the complete and operative invention," where the "inventor" refers to an "individual." The Federal Circuit explained that to "perform this mental act, inventors must be natural persons and cannot be corporations or sovereigns." The remainder of the Patent Act is also replete with references to human actions. When the Patent Act was put in place, there was likely no need to characterize the inventive process as being performed by anything other than people, because there were no such other "beings".


IBM is #1 on U.S. Patent List in 2016

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ARMONK, N.Y. - 09 Jan 2017: IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it broke the U.S. patent record with 8,088 patents granted to its inventors in 2016, marking the 24th consecutive year of innovation leadership. IBM's 2016 patent output covers a diverse range of inventions in artificial intelligence and cognitive computing, cognitive health, cloud, cybersecurity and other strategic growth areas for the company. "Leading the world in innovation for 24 years in a row is a result of IBM's unmatched commitment to innovation and R&D–reflected in this year's new U.S. patent record, breaking the 8,000 barrier for the first time," said Ginni Rometty, IBM's chairman, president and CEO. "We are deeply proud of our inventors' unique contributions to discovery, science and technology that are driving progress across business and society and opening the new era of cognitive business." More than 8,500 IBM inventors residing in 47 states and territories and 47 countries are responsible for IBM's record-setting 2016 patent tally.


Update on Artificial Intelligence as a Patent Inventor

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Our previous blog posts, Artificial Intelligence as the Inventor of Life Sciences Patents? and Update on Artificial Intelligence: Court Rules that AI Cannot Qualify As "Inventor," discuss recent inventorship issues surrounding AI and its implications for life sciences innovations. Continuing our series, we now look at the appeal recently filed by Stephen Thaler ("Thaler") in his quest to obtain a patent for an invention created by AI in the absence of a traditional human inventor. As we previously reported, on September 3, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that an AI machine cannot qualify as an "inventor" under the Patent Act, in a case that Thaler filed seeking, among other things, an order compelling the USPTO to reinstate his patent applications. Those patent applications name an AI system called "Device for Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience" aka "DABUS," as the sole inventor. Thaler, who developed DABUS, remains the owner of any patent rights stemming from these applications.


The clock that cost its inventor millions

BBC News

One of the world's first digital clocks, which was made by a man in his shed, has been sold at auction. Thomas Bromley, an engineer and amateur inventor, created his Digitron Electric Clock in 1961 at his home in Hull. He held the patent to the design for three years but chose not to renew it - potentially costing him millions of pounds. The prototype was sold for £460 to a UK buyer when it went under the hammer in Beverley, East Yorkshire. Auctioneer John Hawley said Bromley had received an award at the Salon des Inventors in Brussels in 1964 for his prototype and would have been a multimillionaire had he renewed his patent.


Could Star Trek's DATA Be a Patent Inventor?

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Most of us know that DATA, the beloved android from Star Trek, The Next Generation, is an artificial intelligence (AI) life form from the distant future with a high capacity to problem solve and innovate. But, if DATA were present today and invented a new technology, could he be an inventor on a patent for his invention? The question of whether AI can legally be an inventor on a patent was recently addressed by the European Patent Office (EPO) and The United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO). The same question is still being evaluated by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) along with solicitation for comments to the patent community. A group from the University of Surrey, in the United Kingdom (UK), recently challenged the definition of "inventor" in Europe and the United States by filing two separate patent applications designating an AI entity as an inventor.