Saturday, August 06, 2022

An inventor under US patent law must be a natural person

From Thaler v. Vidal:

This case presents the question of who, or what, can be an inventor. Specifically, we are asked to decide if an arti- ficial intelligence (AI) software system can be listed as the inventor on a patent application. At first, it might seem that resolving this issue would involve an abstract inquiry into the nature of invention or the rights, if any, of AI sys- tems. In fact, however, we do not need to ponder these met- aphysical matters. Instead, our task begins – and ends – with consideration of the applicable definition in the rele- vant statute.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) undertook the same analysis and concluded that the Patent Act defines “inventor” as limited to natural persons; that is, human beings. Accordingly, the PTO denied Stephen Thaler’s patent applications, which failed to list any hu- man as an inventor. Thaler challenged that conclusion in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which agreed with the PTO and granted it summary judg- ment. We, too, conclude that the Patent Act requires an “inventor” to be a natural person and, therefore, affirm.

The CAFC did not reach Chevron deference.

The sole issue on appeal is whether an AI software sys- tem can be an “inventor” under the Patent Act. In resolv- ing disputes of statutory interpretation, we “begin[] with the statutory text, and end[] there as well if the text is un- ambiguous.” BedRoc Ltd. v. United States, 541 U.S. 176, 183 (2004). Here, there is no ambiguity: the Patent Act requires that inventors must be natural persons; that is, human beings.


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