Artificial Intelligence: South Africa Recognizes AI As An “Inventor,” Awards Patent

July 29, 2021 | Artificial Intelligence, News
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South Africa is the first country in the world to name AI as the inventor in a patent.

South Africa, in a global first, has awarded a patent for the invention of a food container that improves grip and heat transfer, and named Dabus (‘device for the autonomous bootstrapping of unified sentience’), an artificial neural system, as the inventor thereof. The patent was secured by University of Surrey professor Ryan Abbott and his team, who represented Dr. Stephen Thaler, the creator of Dabus. (The Global Legal Post)

Uphill legal task

It has been a long haul for Professor Abbott. After filing for the above patent in multiple jurisdictions across the world, he was refused by the UK Intellectual Property Office, and thereafter the High Court in England and Wales. The European Patent Office and the US Patent and Trademark Office also turned Abbott down. Their common objection: Dabus is not a “natural person” and hence cannot be granted the patent, even though it did create the invention.

However, South Africa did not toe the line of the UK, EU, and US authorities, and recognized Dabus as the inventor.

Abbott welcomed South Africa’s decision: “This outcome represents an understanding of the importance of encouraging people to make, develop and use AI to generate socially valuable innovation.”

Legal conundrum

Why not name Dr. Thaler, the creator of Dabus, as the inventor of the container?

According to Abbott, even though Thaler had created Dabus, the substantive innovative work was performed by the AI. Since Thaler had not contributed to what Dabus had created, it would be violative of patent law to name him as the inventor, and therefore, a legally risky step.

Moreover, AI is being increasingly used in R&D in drug development and repurposing, Abbott said. If AI played a dominant role in a drug invention that qualified for the grant of a patent, and companies were unable to credit a natural person, it could lead to a situation where the patent would not be granted.

Such a position would nullify the investments made in AI by companies such as Siemens (ETR: SIE), Novartis (NYSE: NVS), and DeepMind.

Related Story:  AI Cannot Be an Inventor, Says USPTO

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