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Can a computer invent? The EPO says "no" to AI machine.

Can a computer invent?  The EPO says “no”.

In the initial stage of proceedings that are likely to go further, the EPO has refused two applications in which the inventor was named as an AI machine called “DABUS”, stating that they do not meet the requirement of the EPC that an inventor must be a human.

So far only a brief press release has been published, and we await the full reasoning of the EPO.

The UKIPO has already refused these applications for the same reasons, stating that while it accepted that DABUS created the inventions, as it was a machine and not a natural person it could not be named as an inventor in a patent application.

The European Patent Convention (EPC) was written in a world before AI, so there is no explicit statement in the EPC regarding AI inventors.  While it states that the applicant must be a natural or legal person (Art. 58 EPC) it makes no such explicit statement for the inventor.  Rule 19 EPC only states that the inventor’s family name, given names and address should be supplied, and refers to the inventor using a male pronoun.  Given the lack of an explicit statement in the EPC regarding this issue, it is probable that this case will be taken to the Boards of Appeal.

These applications have been filed in a number of other countries, and it is therefore likely that these decisions by the EPO and the UKIPO are only the beginning of this issue being considered by patent offices around the world.

In a world where many people use technology to assist in their work, e.g. to model new systems, virtually run possible scenarios, or to suggest routes of exploration based on data, this case also opens up the wider question of, at what point does a machine stop becoming an aid to an inventor, and become an inventor in its own right?  With the rise of AI, inventions created by AI machines are likely to become more common, and this is not an issue which is going to be resolved quickly.

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