There’s been a lot of discourse over the past few years about what artificial intelligence can do versus what it should do. Those on the side of the machines see an opportunity for terrific advances, and those opposing are understandably nervous of the notion of technology that can come close to approximating human intelligence, particularly if that tech is given some amount of power and control in managing tasks that would otherwise be done by humans. Sure, humans are flawed, make mistakes big and small, but many still feel comfortable knowing that the hand on the proverbial wheel is one of flesh and blood.
That drama is playing out at lower stakes in the world of intellectual property, with the question of whether artificial intelligence can be credited as the holder of intellectual property rights. And the answer, for now, seems to be no.
Gizmodo has the story of a federal judge rejecting a lawsuit against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office brought by an inventor that wanted his creation to be recognized as a creator itself. Stephen Thaler sued the USPTO for rejecting the patent application he submitted that listed DABUS, an AI, as the recognized creator of a beverage container and some new type of flashing lights. The problem, as you might imagine, is that the rules governing who can and cannot be an inventor are limited to humans.
In ruling against Thaler, Judge Brikema determined that the law as written is, if not explicit, clear that the guidelines put forth in the law are intended for humans to be the recognized inventors for patent applications, which makes sense, given that such laws predate artificial intelligence, or at least AI as something that might actually be capable of creation on its own.
In fairness to the USPTO, they have taken steps to try and get a handle on AI and its place in the future landscape of innovation, soliciting input and commissioning reports on the topic. And it’s a tricky subject to try and get your hands around even if you’re not a governmental body with decades of inertia and preconceived notions to deal with. An AI may be able to create something, but it’ll ultimately be the humans that created the AI that will be able to do anything with the patent. And ultimately we return again to a general uneasiness that a fair number of people feel towards machines treading in an area that was once solely the province of humans.
What will we ultimately be comfortable with AI doing, or at least feel comfortable knowing that AI is doing? Time will tell how opinions shift, but for now AI is, like most of us, not an inventor.