In its August 5, 2022 affirmance of the district court’s grant of summary judgment, the Federal Circuit in Thaler v. Vidal ruled that the Patent Act unambiguously and directly answers the question of whether an AI software system can be listed as the inventor on a patent application. Since an inventor must be a human being, AI cannot be.
Judge Stark’s first authored precedential opinion since confirmation to the Federal Circuit aligns the U.S. position on whether AI can be listed as an inventor on a patent application with that of other major jurisdictions. Left for another day are questions such as the rights, if any, of AI systems, and whether AI systems can contribute to the conception of an invention.
PTO and Litigation Background of the DABUS Patent Applications
In July 2019, two patent applications were filed in the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) that identified an AI system called DABUS (Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience) as the sole inventor and Stephen L. Thaler as the Applicant and Assignee. DABUS, which was characterized as “a particular type of connectionist artificial intelligence” known as a “Creativity Machine” during prosecution and as “a collection of source code or programming and a software program” before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, allegedly generated the subject matter of the two patent applications.
The filed patent applications specifically stated that the inventions were conceived by DABUS, and that DABUS should accordingly be named as the inventor. The PTO subsequently issued Notices stating that the applications did not identify each inventor by his or her legal name. In response to filed Petitions requesting that the PTO vacate the issued Notices, the PTO issued Petition Decisions refusing to vacate, explaining that a machine does not qualify as an inventor under the patent laws, and providing additional time to identify inventors by their legal name to avoid abandonment of the applications.
Thaler then sought judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act in the Eastern District of Virginia, requesting an order compelling the PTO to reinstate the DABUS patent applications, and a declaration that a patent application for an AI-generated invention should not be rejected on the basis that no natural person is identified as an inventor. After briefing and oral argument, the district court issued an order denying Thaler’s requested relief and granting the PTO’s motion for summary judgment, recognizing the Federal Circuit’s consistent holdings under current patent law requiring inventors to be natural persons.