SA has become the first country to register a patent for an invention created by an AI

August 5, 2021

Recently, an AI received a patent in South Africa for a product it invented. Dabus, the Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience, developed an interlocking container based on fractal geometry, all using its own “intuition” to do so.

The AI is, of course, a non-legal entity and has no rights, nor the ability to hold a patent. So the company that created it was declared the owner of the patent, even though they did not create the product, strictly speaking.

The creator of the AI, Stephen Thaler, has lodged applications for a patent in the European Union, United Kingdom and United States. All of these applications failed, due to the countries being unwilling to accept that an AI-generated invention could qualify as a product for patent rights. That led him to give South Africa a try.

In the patent awarded by South Africa’s Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), the inventor of the product is identified as Dabus, which is quite groundbreaking as it gives the AI some sort of recognition, even though no rights have been transferred to it. 

Speaking to Business Insider, CIPC has confirmed that they are considering reviewing the Patent Act, which was published in 1978. It wants the act to be more progressive and modern.

In other parts of the world, projects have been ongoing to ensure that AI technology can, in some cases, receive legal recognition. Ryan Abbott from the University of Surrey has piloted the Artificial Investor Project, which has as its aim that an AI that is programmed to be an investor should be recognised by law as a natural person. 

Not everyone agrees and some legal experts have come forward to say that allowing an AI to receive these kinds of “minimal” rights would lead to a slippery slope and eventually, one might reach a point where AI’s have the same rights as humans, making them our counterparts.