DABUS

An AI is not an inventor after all (or yet)

A strong Full Bench of the Federal Court of Australia has ruled that DABUS, an artificial intelligence, is not an inventor for the purposes of patent law. So, Dr Thaler’s application for DABUS’ patent has been rejected.[1] No doubt the robot will be back again[2] and we can expect that an application for special leave will be pending soon.

A dalek on display
By Moritz B. – Self-photographed, CC BY 2.5,

Dr Thaler had applied for a patent, No. 2019363177 entitled “Food container and devices and methods for attracting enhanced attention”, naming DABUS – an acronym for ‘device for the autonomous bootstrapping of unified sentience’ – as the inventor.

The Commissioner had rejected the application under reg. 3.2C for failure to identify the inventor. That rejection was overturned by Beach J on appeal from the Commissioner. And this was the decision on the Commissioner’s appeal.

Essentially, the Full Court ruled that an inventor for the purposes of patent law must be a natural person, not an artificial intelligence.

The Full Court held that identification of the “inventor” was central to the scheme of the Act. This is because, under s 15, only the inventor or someone claiming through the inventor is entitled to a patent.

Under the legislation before the 1990 Act, their Honours considered that an ‘actual inventor’ could be only a person with legal personality. At [98], their Honours summarised:

In each of these provisions, the ability of a person to make an application for a patent was predicated upon the existence of an “actual inventor” from whom the entitlement to the patent was directly or indirectly derived. Paragraphs (a), (c) and (e) describe the actual inventor as, respectively, a person, one that is deceased and has a legal representative (which must be a person), and one that is not resident in Australia. Paragraphs (b), (d), (f) and (fa) all contemplate an assignment happening between the patent applicant and the actual inventor. It is clear from these provisions that only a person with a legal personality could be the “actual inventor” under this legislative scheme.

This scheme, and its consequences, did not materially change under the 1990 Act.

Acknowledging that a none of the case law had to consider whether an AI could be an inventor, the Full Court noted that the ‘entitlement’ cases proceeded on the basis that ‘inventor’ meant the ‘actual inventor’. Their Honours considered the cases interpreting this expression were all premised on the ‘actual inventor’ – the person whose mind devised the claimed invention – being a natural person. At [105] and [106], their Honours explained:

None of the cases cited in the preceding five paragraphs confronted the question that arose before the primary judge of whether or not the “inventor” could include an artificial intelligence machine. We do not take the references in those cases to “person” to mean, definitively, that an inventor under the Patents Act and Regulations must be a human. However, it is plain from these cases that the law relating to the entitlement of a person to the grant of a patent is premised upon an invention for the purposes of the Patents Act arising from the mind of a natural person or persons. Those who contribute to, or supply, the inventive concept are entitled to the grant. The grant of a patent for an invention rewards their ingenuity.

Where s 15(1)(a) provides that a patent for an invention may only be granted to “a person who is an inventor”, the reference to “a person” emphasises, in context, that this is a natural person. …. (emphasis supplied)

Given that conclusion, and the structure of s 15, Dr Thaler’s argument that he was entitled on the basis of ownership of the output of DABUS’ efforts was to no avail. At [113]:

… having regard to the view that we have taken to the construction of s 15(1) and reg 3.2C(2)(aa) [i]t is not to the point that Dr Thaler may have rights to the output of DABUS. Only a natural person can be an inventor for the purposes of the Patents Act and Regulations. Such an inventor must be identified for any person to be entitled to a grant of a patent under ss 15(1)(b)-(d). (emphasis supplied)

The Full Court then drew support from the High Court’s reasoning in D’Arcy v Myriad esp. at [6] in which the majority emphasised that patentable subject matter had to be the product of “human action”.

Although not put in this way, it is apparent that policy considerations played a significant role in their Honours’ conclusion. At [119] to [120], their Honours pointed out:

in filing the application, Dr Thaler no doubt intended to provoke debate as to the role that artificial intelligence may take within the scheme of the Patents Act and Regulations. Such debate is important and worthwhile. However, in the present case it clouded consideration of the prosaic question before the primary judge, which concerned the proper construction of s 15 and reg 3.2C(2)(aa). In our view, there are many propositions that arise for consideration in the context of artificial intelligence and inventions. They include whether, as a matter of policy, a person who is an inventor should be redefined to include an artificial intelligence. If so, to whom should a patent be granted in respect of its output? The options include one or more of: the owner of the machine upon which the artificial intelligence software runs, the developer of the artificial intelligence software, the owner of the copyright in its source code, the person who inputs the data used by the artificial intelligence to develop its output, and no doubt others. If an artificial intelligence is capable of being recognised as an inventor, should the standard of inventive step be recalibrated such that it is no longer judged by reference to the knowledge and thought processes of the hypothetical uninventive skilled worker in the field? If so, how? What continuing role might the ground of revocation for false suggestion or misrepresentation have, in circumstances where the inventor is a machine?

Those questions and many more require consideration. Having regard to the agreed facts in the present case, it would appear that this should be attended to with some urgency. However, the Court must be cautious about approaching the task of statutory construction by reference to what it might regard as desirable policy, imputing that policy to the legislation, and then characterising that as the purpose of the legislation …. (emphasis supplied)

Finally, in this quick reaction, it can be noted that the Full Court recognised that their Honours’ decision was consistent with the English Court of Appeal’s decision on the counterpart application. Their Honours considered, however, there were sufficient differences in the legislative schemes that a wholly autocthonous solution should be essayed.

Commissioner of Patents v Thaler [2022] FCAFC 62 (Allsop CJ, Nicholas, Yates, Moshinsky And Burley JJ)


  1. Patent application No. 2019363177 entitled “Food container and devices and methods for attracting enhanced attention”  ?
  2. With apologies to you know who.  ?

The English Court of Appeal rejects AI too

The Court of Appeal has dismissed by a 2:1 majority Dr Thaler’s appeal from Marcus Smith J’s decision rejecting the patent applications on the grounds that DABUS is not an inventor.

A recap

In late 2018, Dr Thaler applied for the grant of two patents, GB18116909.4 entitled “Food Container” concerning the shape of parts of packaging for food and and GB1818161.0 entitled “Devices and Methods for Attracting Enhanced Attention” for a form of flashing light.

In his application forms, Dr Thaler named DABUS as the inventor and stated that his entitlement arose “by ownership of the creativity machine ‘DABUS’”.

In later, amended forms, Dr Thaler explained “the applicant identified no person or persons whom he believes to be an inventor as the invention was entirely and solely conceived by DABUS”.

Patents Act 1977 (UK) ss 7 and 13

Section 7 of the UK’s Patents Act 1977 defines who is entitled to apply for and obtain a patent:

7 Right to apply for and obtain a patent.

(1)Any person may make an application for a patent either alone or jointly with another.

(2)A patent for an invention may be granted—

(a)primarily to the inventor or joint inventors;

(b)in preference to the foregoing, to any person or persons who, by virtue of any enactment or rule of law, or any foreign law or treaty or international convention, or by virtue of an enforceable term of any agreement entered into with the inventor before the making of the invention, was or were at the time of the making of the invention entitled to the whole of the property in it (other than equitable interests) in the United Kingdom;

(c)in any event, to the successor or successors in title of any person or persons mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) above or any person so mentioned and the successor or successors in title of another person so mentioned;

and to no other person.

(3)In this Act “inventor” in relation to an invention means the actual deviser of the invention and “joint inventor” shall be construed accordingly.

(4)Except so far as the contrary is established, a person who makes an application for a patent shall be taken to be the person who is entitled under subsection (2) above to be granted a patent and two or more persons who make such an application jointly shall be taken to be the persons so entitled.

Although the wording is somewhat different, ss 13(1) and (2) of the UK Act appear to be similar in effect as, respectively, s 29 and s 15 of the Australian Act.[1]

Section 13 of the UK Act further provides:

13 Mention of inventor.

(1)The inventor or joint inventors of an invention shall have a right to be mentioned as such in any patent granted for the invention and shall also have a right to be so mentioned if possible in any published application for a patent for the invention and, if not so mentioned, a right to be so mentioned in accordance with rules in a prescribed document.

(2)Unless he has already given the Patent Office the information hereinafter mentioned, an applicant for a patent shall within the prescribed period file with the Patent Office a statement—

(a)identifying the person or persons whom he believes to be the inventor or inventors; and

(b)where the applicant is not the sole inventor or the applicants are not the joint inventors, indicating the derivation of his or their right to be granted the patent;

and, if he fails to do so, the application shall be taken to be withdrawn.

(3)Where a person has been mentioned as sole or joint inventor in pursuance of this section, any other person who alleges that the former ought not to have been so mentioned may at any time apply to the comptroller for a certificate to that effect, and the comptroller may issue such a certificate; and if he does so, he shall accordingly rectify any undistributed copies of the patent and of any documents prescribed for the purposes of subsection (1) above.[2]

Can an AI be an inventor?

All three judges were in agreement that DABUS, as an AI, cannot be an inventor because an inventor must be a person.

At [116] Arnold LJ, who gave the lead judgment for the majority, said:

In my judgment it is clear that, upon a systematic interpretation of the 1977 Act, only a person can be an “inventor”. The starting point is section 130(1) which provides that “‘inventor’ has the meaning assigned to it by section 7 above”. Section 7(3) provides that “‘inventor’ in relation to an invention means the actual deviser of the invention”. A dictionary definition of “deviser” is “a person who devises; a contriver, a planner, an inventor” (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 5th edition, Oxford University Press, 2002). Section 7(2) provides that a patent may be granted (a) “primarily to the inventor or joint inventors”, (b) “to any person or persons who …”, (c) “the successor or successors in title of any person or persons mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) above”, but “to no other person”. As Lord Hoffmann explained in Yeda Research and Development Company Ltd v. Rhone-Poulenc Rorer International Holdings [2007] UKHL 43, [2007] Bus LR 1796 at [20], this is “an exhaustive code”. It is clear from this code that category (a) must consist of a person or persons, just as much as categories (b) and (c) do. Section 7(4) creates a presumption that “a person who makes an application for a patent shall be taken to be the person who is entitled under subsection (2) above to be granted a patent”. Again, it is plain that only a person can be entitled under section 7(2), and thus only a person can fall within paragraph (a).

Similarly, at [50] – [51], Birss LJ said:

50 Second, a purpose of the definition of inventor in section 7(3) was to change the law, from the old law going back to the Statute of Monopolies, and to abolish the idea of a true and first inventor who could be anyone other than the actual deviser of the invention. The concept of the actual deviser of the invention was already known to United Kingdom patent law from the 1949 Act (s16). It was the person who actually devised the invention. The contrast was between that person and others who had not done so but were regarded as the true and first inventor, e.g. importers. So in Yeda paragraph [18] the contrast was drawn between the actual deviser and a pretended or deemed deviser.

51 The rest of the 1977 Act is drafted on the footing that the inventor is a person. For example s7(2)(c) of the 1977 Act refers to “person or persons mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b)” and s13 of the Act require an applicant to identify the “person or persons whom he believes to be the inventor or inventors”. However, for what it is worth, I would hold that the mechanism by which the inventor is a person in the scheme of the 1977 Act is because the “actual deviser” is a person and so, by definition in s7(3), is the inventor.

and at [54] – [55]:

54 I conclude that the answer to the first question is a simple one. Within the meaning of the 1977 Act the “inventor” is the person who actually devised the invention.

55 That conclusion is arrived at without any need to examine the policy arguments raised by both parties. Machines are not persons. The fact that machines can now create inventions, which is what Dr Thaler says happened in this case, would not mean that machines are inventors within the meaning of the Act. Assuming the machine is the entity which actually created these inventions, it has no right to be mentioned as the inventor and no right to employee’s compensation under s39 (which no doubt it never had anyway).

At [102], Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing explained:

Both Birss LJ and Arnold LJ agree that the clear effect of the relevant provisions of the 1977 Act is that an inventor must be a person. I also agree with that conclusion. Rights are a consistent theme which runs through section 7. Only a person can have rights. A machine cannot. The premise of section 7 is that an inventor is and can only be a person. A patent can be granted ‘primarily to the inventor’, and only to someone else in the circumstances described in section 7(2)(c) and (d). A patent is a statutory right and it can only be granted to a person. That means that the effect of section 7(2)(a) is that the inventor must be a person. Only a person can make, before the invention is made, an enforceable agreement by which he is entitled to the whole of the property in the invention (other than equitable interests) (section 7(2)(b)). Such an agreement can only be made with another person. Only a person can have a successor in title (section 7(2)(c)). It follows that, absent a statutory deeming provision, it is simply not possible, as a matter of law, for Dabus to be an ‘inventor’ for the purposes of section 7. Nor, for the reasons given by Arnold LJ, has Dr Thaler identified any enactment of rule of law by which he is entitled to that property (even if he could, that would not help his case, because it would not overcome the hurdle that Dabus in not an inventor for the purposes of the Act). Only a person has a right to be named as an inventor (section 13(1)). Section 13(2)(a) also assumes that the inventor is a person. Arnold LJ gives many other examples of provisions in the 1977 Act which support that construction.

Dr Thaler was not entitled to the inventions

In the Court of Appeal, Dr Thaler appears to have shifted ground from the position taken before Marcus Smith J.

Dr Thaler accepted he was not entitled to the inventions under s 7 as the inventor. At [124], Arnold LJ recorded that Dr Thaler also abandoned his claim to entitlement on the basis of an assignment from DABUS.[3] Instead, Dr Thaler based his entitlement on the doctine of accession. Dr Thaler’s argument was that as the owner of DABUS he was the owner of the inventions it produced just as the owner of a cow is the owner of its calves.

At [130], Arnold LJ cited Blackstone for the common law definition of the doctrine of accession on which Dr Thaler relied:

“The doctrine of property arising from accession is also grounded on the right of occupancy. By the Roman law, if any given corporeal substance received afterwards an accession by natural or by artificial means, as the growth of vegetables, the pregnancy of animals, the embroidering of cloth, or the conversion of wood or metal into vessels and utensils, the original owner of the thing was intitled by right of possession to the property of it under such it’s statement of improvement; but of the thing itself, by such operation, was changed into a different species, as by making wine, oil, or bread, out of another’s grapes, olives, or wheat, it belonged to the new operator; who was only to make a satisfaction to the former proprietor for the materials, which he had converted. And these doctrines are implicitly copied and adopted by our Bracton, in the reign of king Henry III; and have since been confirmed by many resolutions of the courts.”

Arnold LJ explained that the doctrine of accession was rooted in the principle of “dominion” – exclusive possession: a person who has exclusive possession of a tangible (the cow) which produces a tangible (a calf) will generally also have exclusive possession of the tangible produced.

However, an invention is information, an intangible. As an intangible, Arnold LJ noted at [133] it was distinguishable from a tangible on the basis that intangibles are non-rivalrous goods: they were capable of simultaneous consumption by more than one person. Accordingly, a new intangible is not capable of exclusive possession.

Furthermore, Dr Thaler was forced to accept that the doctrine of accession did not apply to at least some situations where an intangible was produced by a tangible. At [135], Arnold LJ gave the example of a photograph taken by A using a camera owned by B: subject to an agreement to the contrary, the copyright in the photograph would be owned by the photographer, not the owner of the camera.[4]

Arnold LJ considered that Dr Thaler’s arguments were more about what the law should be rather than what it is. As to what it is, his Lordship said at [136] it ran into two obstacles:

…. As matters stand, it seems to me that the argument faces two obstacles. The first is that it pre-supposes that a machine can be an inventor for the purposes of the 1977 Act. The second is that I cannot see any basis in current law for a person to have a legal right to stand in the place of a machine with respect to the right to apply for a patent, because that pre-supposes that the machine would otherwise have that right, but as noted above machines do not have rights. A point which underlies both these obstacles is that modern patent law is almost entirely a creature of statute.

Accordingly, Dr Thaler’s applications should be rejected.

Birss LJ dissented

Despite agreeing that an AI was not an inventor for the purposes of the Patents Act 1977, Birss LJ would have allowed the appeal. For his Lordship, it was no part of the Comptroller’s role under section 13 to inquire into whether DABUS was in fact an inventor.

To reach this conclusion, Birss LJ examined the history of s 13 and its predecessor under the Patents Act 1949, s 16. Section 16 of the 1949 Act wrought a number of changes. One of those was to permit assignment of the right to apply for a patent which in turn brought in the requirement that the assignee applicant provide an assent from the inventor.

The Banks Committee, however, reported that these arrangements had led to a number of problems. One problem was the difficulty in confidently identifying the inventors.[5] A second problem was that at the examination stage the Comptroller was in no position to check the accuracy of claims to inventorship or assignment. At [44], Birss LJ explained that the Banks Committee had recommended abolishing declarations of inventorship and assent:

This, we think, would simplify the procedure for applicants, protect patentees against invalidation of their patents through inadvertent error in naming inventors, give recognition to the fact that the Patent Office is in no position to check the completeness of declarations of assent and inventorship at present required (which therefore provide no real safeguard against wrongful obtaining of patents), and abolish the anomaly of “communicated” invention. We realise, however, that safeguards are necessary to protect the interests of inventors, and would stress that making of any application by a person other than the inventor should not imply in any way that the inventor has assented to the making of the application or acknowledged the right of the applicant to make it. Furthermore, since we believe that it is most important that the contribution of the inventor, where he is not the applicant, should not be overlooked, we recommend that the applicant, both in Convention and in non-Convention applications, should be required to name the person(s) believed to be the inventor(s), who would then be named in the published specification, but that the fulfilling of this requirement should not prejudice the right of any other person to apply under section 16 of the [1949] Act to be mentioned in the patent, nor should a bona fide error in the naming of inventors invalidate a patent. Where disputes arise over ownership of applications or patents, a new procedure will be necessary for their resolution, and this we recommend in Chapter 13.

Having regard to this history, Birss LJ considered at [58] – [59] that the requirements of s 13(2)(a) would be satisfied so long as the applicant identified who the applicant believed was the inventor. Correspondingly, s 13(2)(b) merely required the applicant to identify the basis on which the applicant claimed derivation from the inventor.

It was no part of the Comptroller’s role, at this stage, to investigate whether or not the identified inventor was in fact legally an inventor or the identified basis of derivation was legally effective. Any other approach would resurrect the very problems encountered under the 1949 Act [s 16][49uk].

In light of this conclusion, his Lordship did not consider Dr Thaler’s arguments based on the doctrine of accession.

With respect, a difficulty with Birss LJ’s approach is that an application would proceed to grant and could be asserted against third parties, or block subsequent applications, unless someone came forward to challenge the grant. And under the UK Act it seems objections on the ground of entitlement can be brought only by someone else claiming entitlement: See Birss LJ at [70] citing s 72.

Arnold LJ (with the agreement of Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing) accepted that the role of the Comptroller under s 13 was limited. His Lordship considered, however, rejection of Dr Thaler’s application did not involve such issues. Rather, the Comptroller took the information provided by Dr Thaler at face value and on its face that information failed to identify the person who was the inventor or any basis operative to transfer the rights of an inventor to Dr Thaler.[6]

As the applications failed to comply with two important statutory requirements, therefore, Arnold LJ held at [148] that the Comptroller was right to reject them.

A moral right

Before concluding, it is worth also noting that the Court of Appeal recognised that the requirement to identify the inventor is really a species of moral right. As Arnold LJ noted at [121], a paternity right: the right to be identified as the creator. At [44], Birss LJ noted the Banks Committee’s recognition that:

it is most important that the contribution of the inventor, where he is not the applicant, should not be overlooked, we recommend that the applicant, both in Convention and in non-Convention applications, should be required to name the person(s) believed to be the inventor(s), who would then be named in the published specification….

Thaler v Comptroller General of Patents Trade Marks And Designs [2021] EWCA Civ 1374 (Arnold and Elisabeth Laing LJJ, Birss LJ dissenting)


  1. See Foster’s Australia Limited v Cash’s (Australia) Pty Ltd [2013] FCA 527. Section 31 extends s 29 to joint applicants.  ?
  2. Section 13 of the UK Act does not have a counterpart in the Australian Act. However, ss 29(4A) and (4B) require applications to be in the approved form – which requires the inventor to be identified and reg. 3.2C(2)(aa) requires applications under the PCT to identify the inventor.  ?
  3. Before Beach J in Australia, Dr Thaler also accepted that, as an artificial intelligence system is not a legal person, DABUS could not legally assign the invention: see e.g. [115].  ?
  4. In Australia, see Copyright Act 1968 s 35, bearing in mind there are exceptions for works made in the course of employment, taking of photographs for a private or domestic purpose or the exception for photographs taken by journalists for newspapers etc.  ?
  5. A problem finally addressed in the Patents Act 1990 (Cth) by the enactment in the “Raising the Bar” Act of s 22A and s 138(4).  ?
  6. At [108], Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing explained “It will be clear from what I have already said that I do not agree that section 13(2)(a) only requires an applicant to ‘state their genuine belief about who the inventor was’ (judgment, paragraph 60). Rather, it expressly requires the applicant to identify the person who, he believes, is the inventor. That is a different requirement, and it is not met by a statement that the applicant genuinely believes that the invention was devised by a machine ….” (emphasis supplied)  ?

More on DABUS – this time in Old Blighty

Ann Dufty, whom many of you will know, has pointed out to me that Dr Thaler’s lack of success in the UK was not limited “merely” to rejection by UKIPO. Dr Thaler’s patent application has been rejected by Marcus Smith J sitting in the High Court of England and Wales.

Under the Patents Act 1977 (UK) s 7(2) is in similar terms and, one might say, to the same effect as s 15 of the Australian Act:

(1) Any person may make an application for a patent either alone or jointly with another.

(2) A patent for an invention may be granted –

(a) primarily to the inventor or joint inventors; 
(b) in preference to the foregoing, to any person or persons who, by virtue of any enactment or rule of law, or any foreign law or treaty or international convention, or by virtue of an enforceable term of any agreement entered into with the inventor before the making of the invention, was or were at the time of the making of the invention entitled to the whole of the property in it (other than equitable interests) in the United Kingdom; 

(c) in any event, to the successor or successors in title of any person or persons mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) above or any person so mentioned and the successor or successors in title of another person so mentioned; and to no other person.

(3) In this Act ‘inventor’ in relation to an invention means the actual deviser of the invention and ‘joint inventor’ shall be construed accordingly.

(4) Except so far as the contrary is established, a person who makes an application for a patent shall be taken to be the person who is entitled under subsection (2) above to be granted a patent and two or more persons who make such an application jointly shall be taken to be the persons so entitled.”

Sub-section 7(3) does not have an obvious counterpart in the Australian legislation but, DABUS aside, one would think Australian law is to the same effect. Putting to one side the question whether or not an AI can be an inventor, Australian law would consider the person who made the invention the inventor.[1]

In the English case, Dr Thaler’s substantive arguments were essentially the same as those advanced in Australia.

As to the meaning of “inventor”, Marcus Smith J at [45(3)] first noted that Lord Hoffmann in Yeda had agreed with Laddie J’s view that an inventor was a “natural person”:

The inventor is defined in section 7(3) as “the actual deviser of the invention”. The word “actual” denotes a contrast with a deemed or pretended deviser of the invention; it means, as Laddie J said in University of Southampton’s Applications [2005] RPC 220, 234, the natural person who “came up with the inventive concept.” It is not enough that someone contributed to the claims, because they may include non-patentable integers derived from prior art: see Henry Brothers (Magherafelt) Ltd v Ministry of Defence [1997] RPC 693, 706; [1999] RPC 442. As Laddie J said in the University of Southampton case, the “contribution must be to the formulation of the inventive concept”. Deciding upon inventorship will therefore involve assessing the evidence adduced by the parties as to the nature of the inventive concept and who contributed to it. In some cases this may be quite complex because the inventive concept is a relationship of discontinuity between the claimed invention and the rior art. Inventors themselves will often not know exactly where it lies.

Marcus Smith J then noted that he had not been cited any authority which explained why inventors were confined to natural persons only. His Lordship said at (a):

There is no authority to which I was referred or which I have myself been able to find which explains why the inventor is limited to natural persons only, as opposed to including also legal persons. Whilst one can see the need to limit Class (a) and so the term “inventor” to someone having personality, the exclusion of legal persons from the definition seems less clear-cut. The 1977 Act could, after all, have explicitly referred to “natural persons” rather than just the “inventor”.

Next his Lordship pointed out that DABUS was not, on any view, a person. Then, in contrast to Beach J at [135] – [145], Marcus Smith J considered that the requirement for a valid patent to have an inventive step was decisive:

It seems to me that, when once the notion of an “inventive step” is factored in, the restriction of the term “inventor” to natural person becomes inevitable. An “invention” by definition[29] must involve an “inventive step”, which is something “not obvious to a person skilled in the art”.[30] It is difficult to see how an inventive step can conceived of by a corporation – which must act through agents – without also striking one of those agents. In other words, the inventive step in the mind of a natural person is attributed to the corporation, which only has the inventive step in its “mind” by virtue of such attribution.[31] There is some sense in keeping the definition of inventor close to that which must arise out of the mind of an individual.

Accordingly, DABUS was not an inventor for the purposes of UK law.

Thaler v The Comptroller-General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks [2020] EWHC 2412 (Pat)


  1. University of Western Australia v Gray [2009] FCAFC 116; 179 FCR 346 at [248] citing [Polwood Pty Ltd v Foxworth Pty Ltd][polworth] (2008) 165 FCR 527. For the counterparts to s 7(1) of the UK Act see ss 29 and 31.  ?

DABUS Down Under take 3

Following last month’s ruling in Thaler that an AI could be an inventor for the purposes of Australian patent law, the Commissioner of Patents has announced her intention to appeal the decision to the Full Court.

Pursuant to s 158(2), the Commissioner requires leave to appeal. Bearing in mind that Beach J’s decision is the first substantive consideration anywhere in the world to accept that an AI could be an inventor for the purposes of the Patents Act, however, that should not prove too much of an obstacle in this case.

Thaler v Commissioner of Patents [2021] FCA 879

Artificial intelligences and inventions Down Under

The Commissioner of Patents has rejected the DABUS application Down Under.

Stephen L. Thaler applied for a patent, AU 2019363177, entitled “Food container and devices and methods for attracting enhanced attention”. The application named the inventor as:

DABUS, The invention was autonomously generated by an artificial intelligence

The application being made under the PCT, there was a formalities check, which, in reg. 3.2C(2)(aa), requires the Commissioner to check whether the named inventor has been identified.[1]

When the Delegate objected that an inventor had not been identified. Thaler explained why he considered DABUS was the inventor (in part):

The sole contributor to the invention is DABUS, an artificial intelligence machine that includes artificial intelligence programs written by the applicant. DABUS is capable of devising inventions without the involvement of a natural person who traditionally qualifies as an inventor. For the present invention, the machine only received training in general knowledge and proceeded to independently conceive of the invention and to identify it as novel and salient. How DABUS functions is described in detail in US Patent 10,423,875 and other patent specifications.

The Delegate understood from this response that DABUS is not a person as understood in law – an individual, a corporation or a body politic.[2]

There is no definition of “inventor” in the Act. Thus, Wilcox and Lindgren JJ had declared that the word bears its ordinary English meaning.[3]

At [12], the Delegate said:

…. Any standard dictionary shows that the traditional meaning of inventor is a person who invents. At the time that the Act came into operation (in 1991) there would have been no doubt that inventors were natural persons, and machines were tools that could be used by inventors. However, it is now well known that machines can do far more than this, and it is reasonable to argue that artificial intelligence machines might be capable of being inventors. I have no evidence whether the ordinary meaning of “inventor”, assessed at the present day, can include a machine. But if this were the ordinary meaning, would this be consistent with the other provisions of the Act?

So far as the other provisions and context provided any (limited) assistance, the Delegate considered at [20] that it was clear a patentee must be a person. This implied that an inventor also needed to be a person and, in any event, an inventor who was not a person could not be a patentee.

Although it was not part of the decision, it may also be noted that an author for the purposes of copyright must be a natural person. A computer-generated work is not an original work for the purposes of copyright as there is no author.[4] Of course, a patent can protect ideas or function while copyright protects the “expression” of ideas. At least to the extent that the rationale for granting protection in either system is the natural rights of a person to the fruits of their mental labour,[4] one would think the same considerations should apply.

Thaler has enlisted the services of Allen’s pro bono and appealed, No. VID 108/2021.

Stephen L. Thaler [2021] APO 5]


  1. Correct identification of the inventor(s) is important as a patent can be revoked if it is not granted to an “entitled person” (or all the “entitled persons” (see s 138(3)(a)) and a person can be an “entitled person” only if they can trace their chain of title back to the inventor(s): s 15(1)(a).  ?
  2. Citing Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth) s 2C.  ?
  3. Atlantis Corporation Pty Ltd v Schindler [1997] FCA 1105; 39 IPR 29 at 54.  ?
  4. Telstra Corporation Limited v Phone Directories Company Pty Ltd [2010] FCAFC 149 at [90] (Keane CJ) and [117] – [119] (Perram J).  ?