The United Kingdom Supreme Court has held that AI is not a person. In 2018, Stephen Thaler filed two patent applications with the U.K. Intellectual Property Office (“UKIPO”). The UKIPO rejected the patent applications on the basis that a person must be listed as an inventor under UK law. Dr. Thaler contended that his AI application, DABUS, autonomously generated the two inventions that were the subject matter of the patent applications.
The U.K. Supreme Court emphasized that its Opinion did not touch on the merits of the patentability of AI-powered tools and machines, generally. The U.K. Supreme Court limited its Opinion to finding that “inventor” means “natural person” under existing law.
This ruling may provide persuasive authority to the United States Patent Office (“USPTO”) and US courts. The Ninth Circuit addressed a similar issue in the “Monkey Selfie” copyright case. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) brought a copyright infringement suit against photographer David Slater. At issue was whether Naruto, the monkey that took a selfie with Mr. Slater’s camera, could hold a copyright in that photograph.
The Ninth Circuit found that non-humans do not have standing to bring suit under the Copyright Act, and PETA could not act as a next friend. UK and US intellectual property law generally align, and this past August the US District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the Copyright Office’s ruling denying copyright registration for an AI created image. See Thaler v. Perlmutter, No. CV 22-1564 (BAH), 2023 WL 5333236 (D.D.C. Aug. 18, 2023).