Is the capacity to invent an exclusively human quality? Or has the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) rendered that proposition obsolete? Those fundamental issues took centre stage in a unique High Court patents case.
A pioneer in the field of AI applied for two patents. He specifically did not claim to be the inventor of the developments which were the subject matter of the applications. That role, he asserted, had been performed by what he described as a 'creativity machine' which employed AI to generate novel ideas. He claimed entitlement to register the patents as the machine's owner. The applications were, however, rejected by the Intellectual Property Office.
In ruling on the man's challenge to that outcome, the Court accepted that he held a subjective and honest belief that the machine had independent inventive capabilities. Those who drafted the Patents Act 1977 had not conceived of such a possibility and the Court acknowledged that AI poses fundamental issues which might cause a fracture in the existing statutory regime.
Rejecting the appeal, however, the Court noted that it can only interpret legislation and cannot itself legislate, no matter how great the policy need. The machine was not a natural person and therefore could not be an 'inventor' within the clear meaning of the Act. As a thing, the machine was incapable of owning intellectual property rights and thus could not transfer any such rights to its owner.