South Africa Issues World's First Patent With AI As Inventor

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South Africa Issues World's First Patent With AI As Inventor

The South African Patent Office on Wednesday issued the world's first patent for an invention created by artificial intelligence, furthering a fight over recognition for such patents in other countries.

The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission, an agency under the country's Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, issued the patent to Stephen Thaler, who runs a company called Imagination Engines in Missouri and who is behind another invention, called a Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience, or DABUS.

"The invention was autonomously generated by an artificial intelligence," the patent reads, published in CIPC's monthly journal of new patents, which identifies Thaler's DABUS as the patent's generator.

Thaler gathered a team of international patent attorneys who gained worldwide attention when they filed a flurry of patent applications for inventions designed solely by artificial intelligence machines, in 2019.

The patent was issued for a type of beverage container that DABUS developed with a surface that "enables multiple containers to be coupled together by interengagement of pits and bulges" and "also improves grip" according to the patent's language. The patent also covers another of DABUS' inventions, a type of flashing beacon used for attracting attention in emergencies.

The patent office in South Africa was the first in the world to grant a patent to such inventions. The nonhuman behind the inventions has caused the group trouble with their applications elsewhere.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office already rejected Thaler's application last year, leading to an appeal that is currently ongoing in Virginia federal court. Back in April, the judge in that case appeared poised to rule that artificial intelligence systems cannot be listed as inventors on patent applications, but a ruling on the issue has yet to come down.

Last September, a judge in the U.K. ruled similarly.

But getting the application printed into South Africa's patent book was part of a new strategy.

"In our [World Intellectual Property Organization] filing, we designated that the inventor was DABUS and the invention was autonomously generated by an artificial intelligence and WIPO accepted that designation" Abbott said.

"We went to South Africa on the basis of the [Patent Cooperation Treaty] designation and, under South African law, they are required to accept that designation," he added.

Thaler now plans on taking the WIPO designation to the patent office in the U.K. and trying again.

If he ever proves successful in the rest of the world, Thaler says allowing inventors to receive patent protection for inventions developed by their machines will be a boon for the pharmaceutical industry.

"If that sort of activity can't receive patent protection, pharmaceutical companies aren't going to want to use AI in drug discovery and repurposing, which is unfortunate because an AI might do a better job than a person in that field," he said.

- With courtesy of Karpan, Andrew (July 28, 2021), "South Africa Issues World's First Patent With AI Inventor", Law360. The full article is available here.

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