October 9, 2023

Intellectual Property Rights in AI

Do you know the story of DABUS? DABUS, which means Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience, is an inventive artificial intelligence (AI) machine created by Dr. Stephen Thaler.

DABUS is an extensive artificial neural system that conceives inventions through its cumulative learned experience. DABUS is said to have created a food container that can retain heat, change shape and improve grip.

Dr. Thaler sought to register the patent for this invention – not in his name but in the name of DABUS as the inventor.

In the United Kingdom (UK), the Patent and Trade Registry refused the application. The courts upheld the refusal. In the United States of America (USA), the patent office also rejected the application. This refusal was also upheld by the courts.

In Australia, the Federal Court upheld the right of patent ownership to DABUS while the Court of Appeal in Australia overturned the decision.

In South Africa, however, the court upheld the right of patent ownership to DABUS. Advancements in AI ensure that the conversation on whether of AI devices can be given legal rights and duties will continue. Can a robot ever become a legal person imbued with its own rights and obligations?

In this article, our Associate, Oluchi Duru, looks at this issue in relation to the ownership of intellectual rights in works created by an AI program, using the DABUS case and the reactions of different jurisdictions. She also discusses the current state of play under Nigerian law.

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