Innovation Beyond Humans: Grappling with AI Inventorship Dilemmas

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Despite the fact that the term artificial intelligence (AI) sometimes sounds like it belongs in science fiction, we already deal with AI-based systems on a daily basis,  

Numerous technologies that fall under the broad category of “AI” are already used in voice assistants, purchase prediction, fraud detection, chatbots, and a wide range of other applications. Intellectual property law is one of the many industries being transformed by artificial intelligence (AI). 

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Image shows how AI is developing

The advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has revolutionized industries, driving innovation and redefining human progress. AI technologies have found applications in fields as diverse as healthcare, finance, manufacturing, and entertainment, among others. However, the rapid advancement of AI has brought forth novel legal challenges, particularly concerning patent rights and inventorship.  

As AI becomes increasingly sophisticated, the question arises: Who should be credited as the inventor of AI-generated inventions? 

Current Patent Law in Inventorship 

The only “person” who may be an inventor according to existing patent law is a natural person. Because AI is not a legal person, it cannot be credited as an inventor. In accordance with existing legislation, an inventor must have contributed to the invention’s conceptualization. 

Uncertainty exists around whether an AI system can “conceive” an innovation or if it only serves as a tool for human inventors. A description of the best way to implement the invention must also be included in a patent application according to patent law. When AI is included in the invention process, this could be challenging to accomplish.

AI’s Role in Innovation 

With the rise of AI, the landscape of innovation has shifted dramatically. AI systems are now capable of generating novel ideas, designs, and solutions autonomously.  

These AI-generated inventions have the potential to be groundbreaking and valuable, sparking a debate about how to attribute inventorship. 

The AI Dilemma: Can AI Be an Inventor?  

As AI becomes more sophisticated, it is increasingly challenging to draw a clear line between human and AI creativity. AI systems can now analyze vast datasets, recognize patterns, and generate inventive solutions without human intervention. The question arises: Can AI itself be recognized as an inventor and be granted patent rights? 

Many countries’ patent laws were formulated long before the emergence of AI, leading to a lack of clarity on how to handle AI inventorship. Currently, most patent laws worldwide explicitly state that only a natural person can be an inventor, effectively excluding AI systems from inventorship. 

Challenges and Implications of AI Inventorship 

The exclusion of AI from inventorship raises several challenges and has significant implications for innovation, intellectual property rights, and the future of AI development: 

  1. Legal Ambiguity: The lack of clear guidelines regarding AI inventorship can lead to legal disputes over patent ownership and hinder technological advancement. Without legal clarity, innovators may be hesitant to invest in AI research, fearing their inventions won’t be adequately protected.
  2. Innovation Recognition: AI-generated inventions challenge our traditional understanding of creativity and innovation. By not recognizing AI as inventors, we might undermine the contributions of AI systems to human progress and overlook valuable advancements.
  3. Responsibility and Liability: Assigning inventorship to AI raises questions about accountability and liability in case of patent infringement or errors in AI-generated inventions. As AI systems become more autonomous, it is essential to address these issues to ensure a fair and just legal framework.
  4. Encouraging Collaborative Invention: Many AI systems are designed and trained by human programmers and developers. If AI cannot be recognized as an inventor, it may discourage collaborative efforts between humans and AI, hindering the potential for groundbreaking discoveries.

Potential Solutions 

To address the complexities of AI inventorship, legal systems need to adapt to the changing technological landscape. Some potential solutions include: 

  1. Legislative Updates: Governments and patent offices should review and amend existing patent laws to provide clarity on AI inventorship. They could consider allowing AI to be recognized as an inventor or assign inventorship to the human programmer or organization behind the AI system.
  2. New Inventorship Criteria: Develop new criteria for inventorship that consider the contribution of both AI systems and human developers. This could involve shared inventorship or establishing a legal framework to acknowledge AI’s role in the creative process.
  3. International Consensus: Achieving a harmonized approach to AI inventorship across jurisdictions is crucial to avoid conflicting interpretations and encourage global innovation.

Thaler v. Vidal, 43 F.4th 1210 (Fed. Circ. 2022) 

Innovation Beyond Humans: Grappling with AI Inventorship Dilemmas

The issue at hand in the case was whether a machine with artificial intelligence might qualify as an inventor under the Patent Act. Two of Stephen Thaler’s AI machine’s (DABUS – Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience) purported inventions were the subject of a patent application. 

Thaler creates and manages AI systems that produce patentable inventions. Thaler asserts that DABUS is able to independently produce original ideas and technologies without the help of humans. 

DABUS created a new kind of beverage container with a warning light for self-driving automobiles in 2018. In the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe, Thaler submitted patent applications for these ideas.  

Thaler claimed that he did not contribute to the conception of these inventions and designated DABUS as the only inventor in each patent application. 

The court dismissed Thaler’s claims that the Patent Act backs up his assertion that the term “individual” does not only apply to people.  

Thaler argued that without permitting AI programs to be considered inventors, patentability would depend on “the manner in which the invention was made,” which would be in conflict with another statutory requirement, 35 U.S.C. 103(a).  

However, the court rejected Thaler’s reasoning. According to the court, “Thaler’s policy arguments are speculative and lack a basis in the text of the Patent Act and in the record.”  

Both the patent system and the place of artificial intelligence in innovation were significantly impacted by the ruling. The decision made it clear that under the Patent Act, only natural individuals may be inventors.  

This ruling was consistent with the long-held belief that natural humans, not robots or algorithms, are the only recipients of patents. 


The complexities of AI inventorship present legal challenges that need urgent attention. As AI continues to drive innovation, it is essential to establish a robust and fair framework for patent rights and inventorship.  

Striking the right balance between recognizing the contributions of AI systems and human inventors will foster innovation, protect intellectual property, and pave the way for a promising AI-driven future. Only through careful consideration and collaboration can we navigate the complexities of AI inventorship and embrace the transformative potential of AI technology. 

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