South Africa Surprises The International Community: Grants Patent To An Artificial Intelligence System

Stephen Thaler Created Dabus

Stephen Thaler, a pioneer in the field of AI and programming, created DABUS (which stands for “device for the autonomous bootstrapping of unified sentience”). The system creates new inventions by simulating human brainstorming. DABUS is a type of AI that is often referred to as “creativity machines” because of its ability to function independently and in complex ways. This is different from everyday AI like Siri, Apple’s iPhone’s voice assistant. 

The patent application, with DABUS listed as the inventor, was filed in patent offices all over the world, including the United States, Europe, Australia, and South Africa. However, the patent was only granted to South Africa (Australia followed suit a few days later after a court judge gave the go-ahead).

Intellectuals Around The World Called It A Mistake

Intellectual property experts have reacted strongly to South Africa’s decision. Some have called it a blunder or an oversight on the part of the patent office. However, as a patent and AI scholar whose Ph.D. research focuses on the patent law gaps created by AI inventorship, I believe the decision is supported by the government’s recent policy environment. This has aimed to boost innovation and sees technology as a means to do so. To the worldwide community’s great surprise, the South African Patent Office, Companies, and the Committee of Intellectual Property approved the patent.

Creativity Machines And The Power Of Machine Learning

Data can be processed and critically analyzed by creativity machines, and they can learn from it. Machine learning is the term used for such a process. After the machine learning phase, the machine can create “autonomously” without the need for human intervention. As evidenced by the Covid pandemic, AI is capable of solving problems that humans are unable to solve — and at a much faster rate.

There have been many different types of creativity machines over the years. Thaler built another AI before DABUS that created unique sheet music and is credited with inventing the cross-bristle toothbrush design.

He applied for a patent for the cross-bristle design, which was granted, demonstrating AI’s ability to produce truly novel inventions that meet patent standards. At the time, Thaler listed himself as the inventor, rather than the AI.

America Rejected The Applications

During the formal examination phase, the US Patent and Trademark Office and the European Patent Office both rejected these applications. They provided three justifications. First, as evidenced by the use of pronouns like “him” and “her” in their text, their respective patent laws only cover human inventors, not AI. Second, ideas require the element of “mental conception” for patent purposes, which is something that only a human mind is capable of. Finally, inventorship comes with rights, which AI is unable to obtain legally.

South Africa’s patent office, the Companies, and Intellectual Property Commission granted the patent, much to the surprise of the international community.

Could Be A Masterstroke  By South Africa Towards A Future Of Innovation

Critics believe that South Africa would have rejected the DABUS patent application had they a substantial system of search and examination.

The first policy was the South African Republic’s Phase I Intellectual Property Policy of 2018. It marked an epoch in the country’s history of patent reforms.

The key message of all these documents is that the government of South Africa wishes to boost innovation to solve the socio-economic troubles of the country. There’s significant concern about solving problems to capitalize on the fourth industrial revolution, such as bad innovation, a lack of financing, and the absence of proper infrastructure.

The awarding of the patent makes sense because of the policy climate and the tremendous potential of AI. This might be a South African Office’s strategic masterclass which may lead them to become a much more innovative nation.