South Africa Grants World’s First-Ever Patent with AI as Inventor

Inventions created by Artificial Intelligence (AI) are the next big thing in the field of innovation. The question, “To whom can a patent be granted for AI inventions?” has been a part of many debates for a pretty long period now. Surprisingly and interestingly, South Africa has recently become the world’s first-ever nation to grant a patent that names AI as its inventor. It has also named the AI’s owner as the owner of the patent invention.

The patent has been secured by the University of Surrey’s professor, Ryan Abbott, and his team. They faced several issues with the Patent Offices across the globe over the dire need to recognize AI as the inventor of patented inventions for many years.

All this while, Abbott was representing Dr. Stephen Thaler, who is the creator of an artificial neural system known as ‘Dabus.’ According to Thaler, Dabus is the sole inventor of a food container capable of improving heat transfer and grip.

Since 2018, Abbott, along with his team, has filed Patent Applications listing Dabus as the inventor in more than ten jurisdictions worldwide, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. Last year, the High Court in Wales and England supported the decision of the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) by rejecting the patent application. In its final ruling, the Court stated that although Dabus created the inventions, it couldn’t be granted a patent as it wasn’t a natural person. Even the European Patent Office (EPO) and the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) rejected the application on the same grounds.

In a recent statement delivered, the Director of the Institute for People-Centred AI at the University of Surrey, Professor Adrian Hilton, said the world is “moving from an age in which invention was the preserve of people to an era where machines are capable of realizing the inventive step.”

Abbott strongly believes that the current situation in law is no longer fit for purpose and could easily put the investment in AI at huge risk. He also pointed towards the increasing use of AI in research and development (R&D) to come up with new drug compounds and support drug repurposing. In such scenarios, he stated that there could be an invention eligible for securing Patent Protection but not an individual eligible to be an inventor. According to Abbott, if what is written in the previous line means that a patent won’t be granted, then companies like Novartis, Siemens, or DeepMind, all of which are investing in AI, won’t be able to use AI in their respective areas.

Welcoming the decision of South Africa, Abbott said that this outcome indeed showcases an understanding of the utmost importance that lies in motivating people to make, develop, and use AI for generating socially valuable innovations. He further added that this decision would serve as a big example to the rest of the world concerning the use of AI in generating human benefits. For more visit:

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