TAKEAWAY: The Federal Circuit has held that only a natural person can be an inventor of a U.S. patent.

In a precedential ruling by a three-judge panel on Friday August 5th, the Federal Circuit held that an artificial intelligence (AI) machine cannot be named as an inventor on a U.S. patent.

The case, Thaler v. Vidal, stems from two applications filed by Stephen Thaler and listing an AI system, “Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Science” (DABUS), as the sole inventor. To comply with the requirement for an inventor declaration, Thaler submitted a statement on DABUS’ behalf explaining that DABUS was a “particular type of connectionist artificial intelligence” called a “Creativity Machine.” Thaler also filed a document to assign all of DABUS’ purported rights as an inventor to Thaler.

The USPTO deemed the applications incomplete for lack of a valid inventor, which Thaler challenged in court. The district court agreed with the USPTO’s interpretation of the Patent Act that an inventor must be an “individual,” and the plain meaning of “individual” as used in the statute is a natural person.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit found that the plain meaning of the text of the statute unambiguously “requires that inventors must be natural persons; that is, human beings.” The Federal Circuit also relied on Supreme Court precedent, everyday parlance, and dictionary definitions of “individual,” as well as a lack of evidence indicating Congress intended a reading other than natural persons.

Thaler has filed related patent applications in various jurisdictions, including the European Patent Office (EPO), Brazil, Israel, Canada, South Africa, and Australia. In July 2021, South Africa’s patent office granted DABUS a patent, but this remains an outlier. In April 2022, an Australian appeals court held that only a natural person can be an inventor under Australian patent law. In December 2021, the EPO determined on appeal that an inventor of a European patent must be a natural person.