Robot sitting in an office

World-first patent application filed for AI inventor’s ideas

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A group of scientists based at the University of Surrey has successfully filed the first patent application for inventions created without a human inventor being involved.

The inventions were developed by an ‘AI inventor’ named Dabus (Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience) by AI pioneer Stephen Thaler. In very basic terms, Dabus uses many interconnecting neural networks which vary their connections to generate new ‘ideas’, while a second layer of networks detect the consequences of these ideas.

Dabus has generated outputs forming the foundation for two inventions. One invention is a new type of drinks container based on fractal geometry and the other is a device for attracting attention for use in search and rescue.

Professor Adrian Hilton, director of the centre for vision, speech and signal processing at the University of Surrey, commented: “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.”

The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and European Patent Office have indicated that the container and device designed by Dabus appear to fulfil all of the primary requirements to receive a patent; they are new, inventive and industrially applicable. However, the first patent application without a human inventor opens up unexplored issues, such as whether an individual could be credited as the patent holder and owner.

No country has laws specifying how these cases should be handled. While there has been anticipation about AI as a creative force for decades, an AI has never been credited as inventor in a patent application.

“In these applications, the Ai has functionally fulfilled the conceptual act that forms the basis for inventorship,” said Professor Ryan Abbott of the University of Surrey’s law school. “There would be no question the AI was the only inventor if it was a natural person. The right approach is for the AI to be listed as the inventor and for the AI’s owner to be the assignee or owner of its patents. This will reward innovative activities and keep the patent system focused on promoting invention by encouraging the development of inventive AI, rather than on creating obstacles.”

“Powerful AI systems could hold the key to some of the mega challenges facing humanity, from the cure for cancer to workable solutions for reversing climate change. But if outdated IP laws around the world don’t respond quickly to the rise of the inventive machine, the lack of incentive for AI developers could stand in the way of a new era of spectacular human endeavour.”

Patent applications on behalf of Dabus are also pending in the US and elsewhere.

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