Legal Alert

U.K. Supreme Court Rules No Patent for AI Inventor

by Charley F. Brown and Jonathan P. Hummel
December 21, 2023


The U.K. Supreme Court has followed the lead of U.S. courts and denied patent rights to an artificial intelligence (AI) system. The case demonstrates a global trend in the current patent law regime to deny inventorship to AI systems based on statutory interpretation of “inventor.”

The U.K. Supreme Court issued an opinion on December 20, in Thaler v. Comptroller-General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks. This case corresponds to a closely watched U.S. patent case, Thaler v. Vidal. In the U.S., in 2019, Dr. Stephen Thaler submitted patent applications covering a thermal mug and a “Neural Flame” and identified as the sole inventor the artificial intelligence (AI) system he developed, the Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Science (DABUS). At the U.S. Federal Circuit, Dr. Thaler argued that the AI conceived of the thermal mug’s invention, and therefore the AI should be granted patent rights (novelty, utility, and other patentability requirements were not at issue).

The Federal Circuit stuck to the language of the statute defining inventors as “individuals,” and determined “the Patent Act requires that inventors must be natural persons; that is, human beings.”

Dr. Thaler also applied for patents in the United Kingdom for similar technologies. The U.K. Supreme Court has taken a similar approach to that of the Federal Circuit, limiting its analysis to the language of the Patents Act 1977, which states, “Any person may make an application for a patent…” and further refers to a “person” or “persons” throughout Section 7 of the Patents Act 1977, which covers the right to apply for and obtain a patent.

Thus, like the U.S. Federal Circuit, the U.K. Supreme Court took a textualist approach and denied inventorship based on the statutory interpretation of who can be an inventor. Neither court commented on the hypothetical situation (discussed recently in the context of copyright here) of a human-AI team.

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