In a recent move by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the legal status of artificial intelligence (AI) in the realm of patent ownership has gained clarity. The USPTO has declared, through official guidance, that while AI-assisted inventions are not outrightly unpatentable, only “natural humans” can be recipients of its official patent protections.
The guidance, though not an absolute rule, emphasizes the long-standing principle that patents primarily aim to incentivize and reward human ingenuity. Despite the legal recognition of corporations as legal entities, the guidance specifies that patents must be awarded to individuals who are, unequivocally, human.
The question of whether AI models can be considered “individuals” in the patent ownership application process has been a topic of legal debate. The guidance affirms that AI systems, despite their intricate capabilities, do not qualify as individuals and, therefore, cannot be inventors. The key takeaway is that at least one human must be identified as the inventor for any given patent claim.
However, the document introduces an interesting nuance by acknowledging that AI-assisted inventions are not categorically unpatentable. It delves into the complexities of defining the role of a human in the AI invention process.
While recognizing a problem or having a general goal is not considered a significant contribution, the guidance suggests that a person who constructs a prompt for an AI system, shaping its solution to a specific problem, may be deemed a proper inventor.
The guidance also emphasizes that maintaining “intellectual domination” over an AI system doesn’t, by itself, confer inventorship. A person overseeing an AI system’s operations without providing a substantial contribution to the invention’s conception will not be considered an inventor.
In essence, the USPTO guidance sets a reasonability standard, introducing a novel perspective on how humans interact with AI in the invention process. It clarifies that owning or overseeing an AI system is not enough to claim patent ownership inventorship; a tangible and meaningful contribution to the invention’s conception is essential. The USPTO makes it clear that the guidance is an application of existing legal principles to the evolving landscape of AI. It does not attempt to define or limit the capabilities of AI but rather aligns with current statutes and precedents.