On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a case brought by computer scientist Stephen Thaler challenging the USPTO’s reluctance to grant patents for innovations his artificial intelligence system produced.
The justices rejected Thaler’s appeal of a lower court’s decision that his AI system could not be regarded as the legal originator of two ideas that he claimed it developed and that only human inventors are eligible to get patents.
In Saint Charles, Missouri, Thaler created Imagination Engines Inc., a business specializing in cutting-edge artificial neural network technology. Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience, or DABUS, according to Thaler, independently developed prototypes for a beverage holder and an emergency light beacon.
His patent applications for the ideas were denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and a federal judge in Virginia on the grounds that DABUS is not a person. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which has jurisdiction over patent cases, upheld those rulings last year and declared that US patent law clearly mandates that inventors be people.
Thaler said before the Supreme Court that AI is being used to develop in a variety of industries, including energy and medicine, and that denying patents created by AI “curtails our patent system’s ability – and thwarts Congress’s intent – to optimally stimulate innovation and technological progress.”
Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law at Harvard, and other academics have backed Thaler in his appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing in a brief that the Federal Circuit’s ruling “jeopardizes billions (of dollars) in current and future investments, threatens U.S. competitiveness, and reaches a result at odds with the plain language of the Patent Act.”
With little success, Thaler has also applied for DABUS patents in other nations, including as Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Australia. Thaler’s appeal of his defeat there was heard by the UK Supreme Court in March.
The U.S. Copyright Office’s decision to refuse copyright protection for the artwork his AI produced has also been contested by Thaler.