Section 101 states "[w]hoever invents or discovers…may obtain a patent therefore…" According to 35 U.S.C. § 100, an inventor is defined as an individual or individuals. As technology has advanced and the possibility that AI would invent something became a probability, the question has arisen whether AI can be an inventor under United States law.
Who are the inventors of patents? Since George Washington signed the first patent in 1790, the United States has issued patents to people of various ages, ethnicities, and genders, with some patent inventors being as young as two when they filed. The varied backgrounds of these inventors stems from the United States Patent and Trademark Office's ("USPTO") broad definition of an inventor, laying out an inventor to "mean the individual or, if a joint invention, the individuals collectively who invented or discovered the subject matter the invention." But what happens when the inventor is a machine? This is the exact issue Dr. Stephen Thaler sought to resolve with the USPTO as well as other worldwide patent offices.
Patents are used to grant exclusive property rights to an inventor and prevent their discovery from being copied by others. The main requirements for a patent are that the invention must be novel, non-obvious and be useful or have an industrial application. Patents are a central part of how pharma does business. Pharma products require longer and more complex research and development (R&D) cycles than products in other industries. Consequently, companies invest significant amounts of money into their new products early on in their development.
The multi-disciplinary international team is led by Professor Ryan Abbott at the University of Surrey. The AI inventor, named "DABUS" by its creator Stephen Thaler, relies upon a system of many neural networks generating new ideas by altering their interconnections. A second system of neural networks detects critical consequences of these potential ideas and reinforces them based upon predicted novelty and salience. Professor Adrian Hilton, Director of the Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing, said: "Modern AI may fundamentally change how research and development takes place. In some cases, AI is no longer a tool, even a very sophisticated tool; in some cases, AI is automating innovation."
Filing a patent is the clerical equivalent of pulling teeth -- at least in the U.S. It first requires inventors to determine the type of intellectual property (IP) protection they require (i.e., utility, design, or plant). Then they're on the hook to conduct a United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database search for similar inventions. If and only if the novelty of their idea passes muster are they allowed to proceed to the next step, which is preparing an application and fees. The system has motivated people like former aerospace engineer Dr. Stephen Thaler to turn to AI in pursuit of a better way. He, along with a team of legal experts and engineers, developed DABUS, a "creativity machine" that's able to generate ideas without human intervention.