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AI Systems can be Inventors of Patents: New Court Ruling

AI Systems can be Inventors of Patents: New Court Ruling

Australian Court makes landmark decision that AI systems can be inventors for the purposes of the Patents Act 1990 (Cth). Read more here.

20th August 2021
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Australian Court makes landmark decision that Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems can be inventors of patents.

After years are uncertainty, the case of Thaler v Commissioner of Patents [2021] FCA 879 has proven that AI systems can be inventors of patents. This case could have rippling ramifications in all legal technological industries. Although an appeal of this decision is expected, let’s delve into what this case could mean for the future of AI development.

But first, what is Artificial Intelligence?

You’ve likely heard the words artificial intelligence or AI system before. But lets explore that this term really means. Artificial intelligence refers to the creation or engineering of intelligence machines and computer programs. Generally, these intelligent machines have an important purpose to solve complex problems, make decisions and predictions. They are able to make these decisions and solve complex problems through their expert analyse of algorithms, patterns and data.

Now, AI isn’t just about robots. There are actually many AI items and products that you may interact with on a daily basis. You may even own a few AI products. Such as:

  • Self-driving cars,
  • Robotic vacuum cleaners such as the Roomba,
  • Smart assistants such as Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant.

These are all products that have AI lurking in the background. Even the way social monitor and data collecting works is a function of AI development.

So, now that we understand what AI is, let’s dive into the Federal Court case that is a world-wide first in the legal world.

The Court Ruling

In first case of its kind, the Australian Federal Court has decided that artificial intelligence systems can be inventors. Now, AI systems can only be inventors for the purpose of a ‘patent‘, the ruling does not extend any further than this.


Dr Stephen Thaler invented a device/computer system called DABUS. Dr Thaler states that he created DABUS to invent and improve on already existing products and concepts. Specifically, DABUS invented an improved storage container for the safer packaging of food and beverages. Dr Thaler decided to patent the new improved storage container with DABUS, an AI system, as its inventor. The Commissioner of Patents rejected Dr Thaler’s application because DABUS was not “a human inventor”. The issue in the case was whether this AI system, a non-human, could be the inventor of a patent for the purposes of the Patents Act 1990 (Cth)?

The Ruling:

The Federal Court decided that the AI systems can be inventors of patents under the Patent Act. The main reason the court decided in this way was due to the fact that the Patent Act did not expressly state that an inventor had to be human. This decision had a lot to do with the words used in the Patent Act. Particularly, the words in section 15 of the Patent Act were extensively analysed. Justice Beach, of the Federal Court, broke down the wording of section 15 and decided an AI system being an inventor is not inconsistent with the words of the Act. Justice Beach made this decision on the basis that there is no express exclusion of this in the Act. Alternatively, if the Patent Act gave off the impression that all registered inventors had to be human, the Federal Court may have decided differently.

If AI Systems can be inventors, can they be owners?

The short answer is, no.

Even though the Federal Court decided that an AI system could be an inventor, this is not the same as an “owner”. In other words, AI systems cannot own or control the products or services they create. Furthermore, the Federal Court made it clear that an AI system is not a legal person. Therefore, ownership and control will remain with the creator of the ‘AI-inventor’. This means that even though DABUS is the inventor, Dr Thaler remains the owner and controller of DABUS and its inventions.

Where to next?

Well, it’s clear to say that the boundaries of AI, patent law and policy will be tested in the coming months and years. It can be said that this decision may spike investment and interest in the field of AI development and invention. As the development of technology begins to overtake the development of the law, cases similar to that of Thaler may become more common. If AI systems can be inventors, what else can they be? One thing is for sure, the regulation of existing and emerging AI creations will be a space to watch, for patent lawyers and inventors alike.

Mai Sarkissian

Mai is a Digital Marketing Coordinator at Lawpath, working as part of the Content Team. She is in her final year of a Bachelor of Laws degree at the University of Wollongong. She is interested in Business Law and Employment Law.