UK Court Decision: Artificial Intelligence Machine Is Not An InventorOctober 20, 2020

DABUS, the artificial intelligence machine named as the sole inventor on two UK patent applications, has been denied the status of inventor by the Patent Court of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales.  In an appeal from the UK Patent Office by the applicant, Stephen Thaler, the Court ruled on September 21, 2020 that Thaler’s computer, which he named DABUS, does not qualify as a inventor, which must be human.

In October and November, 2018, Thaler filed patent applications GB1816909.4 and GB1818161.0, which identifying his “creativity machine”  as the one and only inventor.  He described DABUS as a system of artificial neural networks trained with general information from general knowledge domains, and which generates ideas that are evaluated for novelty, utility, and value, with no human input. Thaler argued that if a person had come up with these ideas, they would meet the criteria to be an inventor, therefore DABUS should also qualify as an inventor.  Thaler cited US patent 5,659,666 and 7,454,388 to describe how DABUS functions.  Thaler also argued that an invention by an autonomous machine should be considered to be assigned to the owner of the machine.

The UK Patent Office concluded that naming the machine as the inventor did not meet the requirement of the Patent Act, which requires a person must be identified as the inventor.  The Patent Office clarified that this meant a natural person, not a legal person (such as a corporation).  The examiner also concluded that a machine cannot own patent rights, and had no power to assign any rights it might have.  Thus, Dr. Thaler could not be an Applicant for grant of a patent.

The UK Patent Court emphasized that it was its function to construe the Patents Act, and not to re-write the Act.  The Court also stated that how the law should be regarding all legal aspects of artificial intelligence is a question for the legislature, rather than for the courts.  So regardless of the policy needs, the court could only construe the existing law, and not create new law.

The court cited Section 7 of the Act, which provides that any person may make application for a patent, and concluded that since Dr. Thaler was the applicant, Section 7 was met.  Then the court cited Section 30(1) of the Act, which provides that a patent or application for a patent is personal property that may be transferred.  The court noted that only a person can be granted a patent.  Even though the Act contains no express statement than an inventor must be a person, the Act defines inventor as the actual devisor of the invention.  Therefore, the court concluded that “devisor” implies that someone devised something, such that the natural reading is that the inventor is a person and the invention is a thing. The court did not assert that DABUS is not capable of inventing something, but rather that DABUS was not an inventor because it is not a person.

Then the court explained that Thaler cannot apply for a patent on the DABUS inventions because DABUS lacks the ability to transfer any property to Thaler.  In fact, as a thing, DABUS cannot even own property.

The court summarized that “in order to be granted, a patent must be applied for – and that must be done by a person. It is therefore quite impossible to say that simply because (i) DABUS has invented something and (ii) Dr Thaler owns DABUS, Dr Thaler is entitled to the grant of a patent. There must either be an application by the inventor within section 7(2)(a) (which cannot be made because DABUS is not an inventor nor a person) or the inventor must have transferred the right to apply enabling Dr Thaler to apply under one of section 7(2)(b) or (c) (which again cannot be in this case).”

In August, 2020, Thaler also sued the US Patent and Trademark Office, which denied inventor status to DABUS for two U.S. patent applications based on U.S. patent law.  This case is pending. Another post discusses the general topic of  protecting artificial intelligence

Kirk Hartung is Chair of the Mechanical Patent Practice Group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC. For additional information please visit or contact Kirk directly via email at

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