South Africa has awarded a patent to an artificial intelligence (AI) called Dabus — short for Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience.
Dabus received its patent for a food container based on fractal geometry, which The Global Legal Post reported improves grip and heat transfer.
The patent was filed by an international team of lawyers and researchers led by Ryan Abbott (pictured), professor of law and health sciences at the University of Surrey.
Historically, an inventor who applied for a patent had to be a human being, the University of Surrey said in a press statement.
This is even though the ownership of that patent is commonly given to the company that employs the inventor.
While patent law in many jurisdictions is particular in defining an inventor, the Dabus team had argued that the status quo is not fit for purpose in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“Fourth Industrial Revolution” is an industry term used as shorthand for a set of technologies — chief among them machine learning and artificial intelligence — that is predicted to cause a big increase in industrial productivity.
The researchers said that AI plays an increasing role in the design of ideas and that they believe the Dabus case could have significant repercussions on intellectual property law.
The Dabus team has similar cases moving through UK, European, US, and other court systems.
Earlier this year, the president of the European Patent Office, António Campinos, intervened in the European case because it was “of high importance and general interest.”
“This is a truly historic case that recognises the need to change how we attribute invention,” said Professor Adrian Hilton, director of the institute for people-centred AI at the University of Surrey.
“We are moving from an age in which invention was the preserve of people to an era where machines are capable of realising the inventive step, unleashing the potential of AI-generated inventions for the benefit of society.”
It should be noted that South Africa has a non-examining patent office.
According to the law firm Bowmans, this means that the patent applications lodged with the South African patent office are not subject to examination in terms of the invention’s patentability.
Should a patent holder wish to enforce their intellectual property rights, it is up to the courts to decide on patentability.