On Monday, the United States Supreme Court rejected computer scientist Stephen Thaler’s appeal against the decision of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to withhold patents for the inventions produced by his artificial intelligence system.
Thaler’s appeal was dismissed by the justices, affirming a prior decision by a lower court. The lower court ruled that only human inventors can be granted patents and that Thaler’s AI system cannot be recognized as the legal inventor of the two inventions it generated, as he claimed.
Imagination Engines Inc., a Missouri-based company specializing in advanced artificial neural network technology, was founded by Thaler. Thaler claims that his Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience (DABUS) system independently created unique prototypes for a beverage holder and an emergency light beacon.
However, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and a federal judge in Virginia rejected Thaler’s patent applications for the inventions because DABUS lacks the status of a legal entity. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which focuses on patent issues, upheld these rulings last year, stating that U.S. patent law stipulates that inventors must be human beings.
In his argument before the Supreme Court, Thaler asserted that AI is being used to innovate across various fields, including medicine and energy. He claimed that refusing to grant patents for AI-generated inventions hinders the patent system’s capacity and goes against Congress’s objective of promoting technological progress and innovation.
Thaler’s cause was supported in his Supreme Court case by Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig and other academics who argued briefly that the Federal Circuit’s ruling jeopardizes current and future investments worth billions of dollars. They asserted that the decision threatens U.S. competitiveness and contradicts the straightforward language of the Patent Act.
While Thaler has sought DABUS patents in other countries, including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, and Saudi Arabia, his success has been limited. In March, the U.K.’s Supreme Court heard Thaler’s appeal of his loss.
Thaler has also questioned the decision of the U.S. Copyright Office to deny copyright protection for artwork produced by his AI.