UK: How Do We Afford Patent Protection When Novel Ideas Are Created By Artificial Intelligence?

It was recently reported by the BBC that researchers at the Artificial Inventor Project (a project group seeking intellectual property rights for the autonomous output of Artificial Intelligence (AI) have filed patent applications listing an AI system as an inventor (as opposed to, or in addition to, a human inventor).

The AI system in question, DABUS is a creativity machine which generates novel ideas without human intervention. It created two products: a beverage container and a device for attracting attention in search and rescue operations. Had its inventions been created by a human, that human would be listed as the inventor. However, patent offices around the world do not currently recognise AI machines as inventors leading to concerns regarding the patentability of AI inventions. This article considers such concerns and discusses potential solutions to ensure that AI inventions are afforded patent protection.

What is the Problem with AI Inventorship?

The problem with AI inventorship is its link with ownership. The default position (other than for employees) in the UK (as with most other jurisdictions) is that the inventor (or joint inventor) of an invention for which patent protection is sought will own any patent that is granted.1 This poses problems for listing AI as patent inventors: machines are not legal or natural persons and cannot own property. Indeed, without a radical shake-up of how the law views legal personality, it is impractical to propose that AI can hold ownership rights in intellectual property: AI has no standing and cannot commercialise or protect its rights. To be useful and effective, the rights in the intellectual property need to vest elsewhere.   

In the absence of recognising AI systems as inventors, Ryan Abbott (Artificial Inventor Project) expressed concerns that the ideas generated by such machines will not be assigned patent protection and that this will ultimately stifle innovation in various industries. As technology continues to develop and AI becomes more advanced, it is likely that innovators will become more reliant on AI to help develop new inventions and, therefore, a solution to ensure patent protection is afforded to AI inventions is required to continue to incentivise research and development.

Is There A Solution To The AI Inventorship Problem?

The following proposed solutions offer methods of affording patent protection to AI inventions while ensuring that somebody is assigned patent ownership:

  • allowing AI inventorship but creating a regime that vests ownership in a human;
  • allowing joint AI inventorship with ownership vesting in a human co-inventor; or
  • allowing non-inventive humans to be listed as patent inventors (in lieu of AI inventorship).
AI Inventors with Ownership Vesting In A Human

The first potential solution to the AI inventorship problem is to allow AI to be listed as an inventor but to implement a regime which vests ownership of such inventions in a human.

It is not uncommon in UK patent law for non-inventors to own IP: statute provides that in certain circumstances employee inventions are owned by employers.2 A similar regime could be introduced in the context of AI inventorship: where AI is listed as a patent inventor, ownership vests elsewhere. Ownership could vest in the individual that: owns the AI; coded the AI; operates the AI; invented the AI; trained the AI; or first recognised the idea as inventive.

The implementation of a regime vesting AI inventions elsewhere would be simpler than the equivalent regime for employees as there are no concerns about compensation and no disputes regarding whether an invention was created in the course of employment. However, AI inventorship may give rise to more situations in which employee rights are concerned: if an employee codes or operates the AI machine in the course of employment, existing rules may apply.

AI and Human Joint inventorship

The second potential solution is to allow joint AI inventorship with a human. The potential joint inventor could include any of the same individuals listed above as a potential owner. The AI inventorship problem is resolved because the joint inventor can take ownership of the granted patent.

The Patent Act describes ‘inventor’ as the actual deviser of the invention3. If a machine has devised the invention then technically no human is eligible to be an inventor. Therefore, in order to implement this solution the legislative regime must change to permit non-inventive joint inventors when AI has generated the invention. It would also mean ignoring the joint ownership that would usually be accord to a joint inventor but could not be held by a machine.

Moreover, the Artificial Inventor Project suggest that failing to acknowledge the inventorship of AI in favour of a human diminishes the achievements of persons involved in other inventive activities and listed as inventors on non-AI patents. This concern will apply to joint ownership, however, joint inventors could be marked with an asterisk on patents to indicate that the inventive process was completed by AI.

Non-inventive human inventorship

The third potential solution is to implement a regime to allow a human to be listed as the sole inventor, without contributing to the inventive process, instead of listing the AI machine at all.

Similar considerations and concerns apply to this solution as discussed for the second potential solution: humans may not have contributed to the invention and it may diminish the achievements of other inventors. However, this solution remains easier to implement when compared to the second solution as it does not require a change in the legal position to permit inventorship of AI.


Although each of these solutions would require legislative changes, they would each ensure the patentability of AI inventions and potentially resolve the AI inventorship problem. The first solution, of according inventorship in the AI system but assigning ownership to a human or corporate personality, would appear to be the most legally rigorous and fits in best with existing regimes. However, it remains to be seen how the law will adapt to this emerging issue.

As we see more reliance on AI machines such as DABUS, we also need to consider the growing threat and added complication of litigating AI inventions, which will be discussed in a later article.


1 S7 Patents Act 1977

2 S39 Patents Act 1977

3 S7(3) Patents Act 1977

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Practice Guides
by Mondaq Advice Centres
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions