Can the law keep up with rapid developments in new technology? In a recent post, [ ] we looked at ‘smart contracts’. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now able to do many things that human beings can do – only much, much faster. But, what happens when AI has new and creative ‘ideas’. How does the law deal with that? And how should the law deal with that?

If a human being – a person - has a new and creative idea, the law may protect that idea in several ways. New and creative ideas may, and often do, bring financial rewards. For example, if you are creative and write a book, you may be able to sell that book and make money. If you think of and create (invent) a new product, you may be able to sell that product and make money.

In both cases, the law may protect your new and creative idea. The law sees your new and creative idea as a kind of property – intellectual property. And the law will protect intellectual property rights. There are different kinds of intellectual property. And, there are different ways of protecting intellectual property. For example, your book may be protected by copyright. Your new product may be protected by a patent.

But what happens if the new and creative idea is produced by AI?

In 2018, a man called Stephen Thaler tried to file an application for a patent in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. Mr Thaler wanted to protect a new and creative idea. However, the idea was not his, but that of an AI machine called DABUS (“Device for the Autonomous Bootstrap of Unified Sentience” – no, we don’t know what that means, either!). The patent application claimed that DABUS had identified a novel idea before any human being and should therefore be recognised as the inventor.

The patent offices in all three jurisdictions refused the applications. Basically, they said that the legal provisions in their jurisdictions provided that the inventor had to be a natural person – a human being.

Mr Thaler is appealing the decisions of the United Kingdom and European patent authorities. The case does raise interesting questions, both of intellectual property law and also human rights. The case has shown, once again, that the law is not always ready to deal with how fast technology changes.

A recent report by the European Union [Report on Intellectual Property Rights for the Development of Artificial Intelligence Technologies 2020/2015] accepts that the current legal framework is inadequate. However, it said that a ‘human-centred’ approach must be taken which recognises AI as a tool to help humans and not something which is ‘independent’ of them. At the moment, therefore, it seems that AI alone will not be recognised as capable of creative invention of ideas that will be protected in intellectual property law. It will be interesting to see how this develops in the months and years ahead.


Are the following statements true (T) or false (F)?

1. Intellectual property rights protect new and inventive ideas.

2. If you write a book, you may file an application for a patent to protect it.

3. The patent offices in the United States, the United Kingdom and European Union granted Mr Thaler’s application for a patent.

4. Mr Thaler is appealing against the decisions of the patent authorities in the United Kingdom and European Union.

5. The European Report on Artificial Intelligence Technologies suggests that AI should be recognised as able to have its own intellectual property rights.


Find a word (or phrase) in the text which means:

1. A phrase meaning money that you receive for achieving something.

2. A verb that means to place something into official records.

3. A noun meaning the person who creates, for example, a new and original product.

4. Geographical areas in which there is power to make laws and give (and enforce) legal judgments.

5. A word meaning the process of applying to a higher court or authority for the reversal of a decision of a lower court or authority.



1. True

2. False. If you write a book, you need to protect it with copyright.

3. False. The patent authorities refused the applications for patents.

4. True

5. False. The European Union report suggests that AI is only a tool to help humans and not something that is independent of them



1. financial rewards

2. file

3. inventor

4. jurisdictions

5. appealing

© Cambridge Legal English Academy 2020

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