By Blake Brittain
WASHINGTON(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a challenge by computer scientist Stephen Thaler to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's refusal to issue patents for inventions his artificial intelligence system created.
The justices turned away Thaler's appeal of a lower court's ruling that patents can be issued only to human inventors and that his AI system could not be considered the legal creator of two inventions that he has said it generated.
Thaler founded Imagination Engines Inc, an advanced artificial neural network technology company based in Saint Charles, Missouri. According to Thaler, his DABUS system, short for Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience, created unique prototypes for a beverage holder and emergency light beacon entirely on its own.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and a federal judge in Virginia rejected his patent applications for the inventions on the grounds that DABUS is not a person. The patent-focused U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld those decisions last year and said U.S. patent law unambiguously requires inventors to be human beings.
Thaler told the Supreme Court that AI is being used to innovate in fields ranging from medicine to energy, and that rejecting AI-generated patents "curtails our patent system's ability - and thwarts Congress's intent - to optimally stimulate innovation and technological progress."
Thaler's supporters in his case at the Supreme Court include Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig and other academics who said in a brief that the Federal Circuit's decision "jeopardizes billions (of dollars) in current and future investments, threatens U.S. competitiveness and reaches a result at odds with the plain language of the Patent Act."
Thaler has also applied for DABUS patents in other countries including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia and Saudi Arabia with limited success. The UK's Supreme Court heard Thaler's appeal of his loss there in March.
Thaler has also challenged the U.S. Copyright Office's decision to deny copyright protection for art his AI created.
(Reporting by Blake Brittain in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)