Constituting a world first in a field that has traditionally been hostile to an “artificially intelligent” inventor, South Africa’s patent office granted a patent in July 2021 to an invention created by an AI system.

获得批准的发明是一种互锁食品容器系统,该系统具有基于分形几何的设计,可提高抓地力和热传递。这使得它们很容易被机器人抓取和堆叠。

DABUS (Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience)

DABUS (Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience), the AI that “designed the invention”, is the creation of Stephen Thaler, CEO of US-based Imagination Engines. Thaler created the source code for DABUS, which he named as the “inventor” of the product in patent applications filed around the world while naming himself as “applicant” and thus patentee.

虽然南非的专利奖无疑是开创性的,但它却引起了国际知识产权专家的强烈反对。

一些人将其标记为南非专利局(公司和知识产权委员会的一部分)的错误或疏忽,评论员指出授予专利是对专利合作条约国有化的立法规则和程序的误解的结果(PCT) 在南非的申请。

许多人还将专利授予视为对南非专利程序的控诉,该程序目前仅包括形式审查步骤。这涉及复选框式评估,以确保所有相关表格均已提交并按时完成。

Search and examination system (SSE)

批评者认为,如果南非有实质性检索和审查制度 (SSE),DABUS 专利申请就会被拒绝。事实上(如下所述),SSE 在这种情况下是无关紧要的,因为甚至专利局有义务进行的形式审查似乎也缺乏。

Spoor & Fisher 的专利代理人, 大卫吉尔森,解释说:“在南非,我们的专利法不包含发明人的定义,也不需要实质审查。只要满足形式要求,就可以授予专利。”

He goes on to ask: “How, in the case of DABUS, did Thaler obtain the right to apply for the patent from a machine? Unresolved difficulties of this nature could result in the patent being contested in the future. It is a requirement of South African patent law that if the applicant for a patent is not the inventor, the applicant must provide proof of his/her right to apply in lieu of the inventor. As DABUS had been cited as inventor, how should the machine “decide” to assign its (apparent) rights to its creator – and furthermore, how could this possibly be effected in reality?”

Those in favour of granting patents to AI systems assert that this will encourage technology innovation and investment in AI systems, prevent the mis-crediting of human beings, and notify the public who – or indeed, what – the actual creators of an invention are.

Legislation requiring the inventor to be a natural person

但美国和英国专利局均拒绝了 DABUS 申请,理由之一是各自的立法要求发明人为自然人。当 Thaler 对此提出异议时,两项裁决均得到维持。

Then, in September 2021, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia found that, under the US Patent Act, the AI computer cannot be recognised as an inventor. It concluded that the “clear answer is no” to designating an AI system as an inventor on a patent application “based on the simple legislative text of the Patent Act and Federal Circuit Authority”.

根据判决,国会在专利法中使用“个人”一词强化了发明人必须是自然人的结论;国会将“个人”一词理解为与人有关。

在 DABUS 在南非获得第一项专利后不久,澳大利亚联邦法院的法官乔纳森·比奇 (Jonathan Beach) 也做出了支持 Thaler 的裁决,认为非人类可以被认定为专利的发明人。澳大利亚 1990 年的专利法没有定义发明人,该法案中也没有任何具体条款明确否认人工智能系统可以被视为发明人。比奇进一步表示,这种结构将符合专利法的目标,即促进发明。

But the question remains: Can the DABUS application withstand legal examination? And are South Africa’s IP laws keeping up with technology innovation? Gilson warns: “This patent award should serve as a wake-up call to governments around the world to accelerate the process of modernising and harmonising intellectual property laws, regulations, and practices in general.”

本文首次发表于 IT Online。