Questions about the future of intellectual property are seemingly tied to the future of creativity as it relates to technology. We've already seen the USPTO look for input and guidance as to new rules for copyright law regarding works created by artificial intelligence, and the matter will only become more pressing as AI becomes more adept at creating unique works that warrant copyright protection. It's a complicated topic, one that wrestles with questions originated in our science fiction: can machines be said to have consciousness, enough so that their work could rise to the same level of that created by human hands and minds?
It's a matter that has been put before the European Patent Office, and the answer they returned is thus far "no." The body rejected two patent applications that were submitted with AI as the designated inventor. The AI in question is known as DABUS and was created by Stephen Thaler, and the patents are on a food container and a method of trying to get rescued, though the what is clearly secondary to the who in this situation.
The application was filed by the Artificial Inventor team, and is clearly a test case meant to try and bring about change to the current restrictions on European patent law, which requires a human inventor to be listed on the application. The contention from the Artificial Inventor group is that the process should be open to AI provided that it meets all of the standards and barriers required of a human inventor, which gets to the very heart of the broader question surrounding AI and IP.
The EPO disagrees, at least for the moment, rejecting the applications and promising a "reasoned decision" this month. It's perhaps the case that our slow-moving legal systems are not yet ready for the rise of the machines, but that future is quickly approaching nonetheless. Ultimately it will come down to a question of money, as most things do; who owns what is created by AI and can thus profit off of it? Does the creator of the AI then own what the AI creates, despite not having any authorship over that thing in particular? It would probably be too naive to think that AI creations could somehow become something like communal property in a time when innovations are desperately needed to stem global problems. However the world's governments decide to handle AI and the work created by it, they should decide fast, because AI is here to stay.