Japanese Court Rules AI Cannot Be Credited as an Inventor under Patent Law

The Tokyo District Court has ruled that artificial intelligence (AI) cannot be credited as an inventor under Japanese patent law. On Thursday, Presiding Judge Motoyuki Nakashima rejected an appeal by an American engineer who had argued that a patent application featuring an AI-created invention should have been permitted. The court pointed out that the Patent Law is based on the assumption that the patent applicant will be a natural person and that inventors are therefore limited to humans. The judge added, however, that the possibility of a separate system being designed specifically for AI-generated innovations could be considered in the future.

The case concerns a 2019 application made by the engineer for AI-generated inventions relating to food containers and other products. The AI in question was called DABUS – Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of United Sentience – and its “name” was listed as the inventor on the application form submitted to the authorities. The patent office refused the application on the grounds that an inventor must be a natural person. The plaintiff then brought the case before the court in an attempt to have the decision overturned as illegal, but this was not successful.

While the court’s ruling declines to decide on the patentability of the AI-generated invention in question, it is likely to be viewed as a precedent for similar cases. Attorneys for the plaintiff have stated an intention to appeal the decision.

Many other countries are also grappling with the issue of AI-generated patent applications. Last year, a similar case was brought before a UK court, which found in favour of the Patent Office’s policy of only accepting patents for inventions created by a human. Similarly, the European Patent Office announced in 2020 that AI and machine learning cannot be credited as inventors in patent applications.

The issue of non-human inventorship has drawn a variety of opinions from experts and lawmakers. Critics argue that the current framework of patent law risks impeding machine learning and other technological innovation and limiting the value of AI-generated inventions. Supporters of maintaining the principle of natural person inventorship emphasise the importance of ethical control of the design, development and use of AI technology.

The Tokyo District Court’s decision highlights the need for legal clarification as AI and other emerging technologies become increasingly integrated into society and the economy. Concerns about the social and economic implications of the exponential growth of technologies such as AI have prompted calls for more comprehensive legislative frameworks. The increasing complexity of emerging tech also poses new challenges for legal experts and policymakers in terms of ensuring effective and fit-for-purpose regulation.

As we noted recently, discussions around AI regulation have gained increasing momentum around the world. Proposed measures range from voluntary ethical guidelines to mandatory testing regimes and certification schemes. As the use of AI becomes more common in fields such as healthcare and transport, the need for a coordinated international approach to regulation is becoming urgent. Massachusetts senator Ed Markey has previously called for a global AI treaty to promote ethical development and to prevent abuses of the technology


Hot News