Tokyo District Court Rules AI Cannot Be Issued Patents; Law Recognizes Only ‘Natural Persons’ as Inventors

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Tokyo District Court in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo

The Tokyo District Court has dismissed a claim by an American engineer regarding an AI-generated invention, saying inventors provided for under the Patent Law are limited to natural persons.

Presiding Judge Motoyuki Nakashima handed down the ruling on Thursday. After the Patent Office dismissed a patent application in which an AI was named as its inventor, the plaintiff had filed a suit with the court against the government, arguing that the rejection was illegal and seeking to have it annulled.

According to the ruling, in 2019 the plaintiff submitted an international application for patents for food containers and other products invented by an AI.

The AI’s name, DABUS, or Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of United Sentience, was written in the inventor’s name section of the application form submitted to the Patent Office.

The Patent Office ordered the plaintiff to amend the name on the grounds that “inventors are limited to natural persons.” But the plaintiff refused, and the application was rejected.

The court ruling pointed out that there are provisions within the Patent Law that operate on the presupposition that a patent applicant is a natural person. Saying that many other countries are wary of counting AI as inventors, it concluded that inventors are limited to natural persons.

The court did not make a judgement on whether the content of the invention fulfills patent requirements.

But the court also mentioned that in case AI-generated inventions are recognized, it may be possible to design a separate system that is different from the existing Patent Law.

“Taking into account changes AI will bring to society and the economy, it would be appropriate to have a national debate and have it be decided as a legislative matter,” it said.

After the ruling, an attorney for the plaintiff expressed the intention to appeal to a higher court.

“We appreciate the court’s statement about the need to design a system to deal with AI-based inventions,” the attorney said. “We’d like to seek judgment from a higher court because this issue is important to society.”

The Patent Office said, “We understand the court has accepted our assertion that inventors are limited to natural persons.”