Patent to an Artificial Intelligence system

  • IASbaba
  • August 12, 2021
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  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Patent to an Artificial Intelligence system

In news: In a world first, South Africa grants patent to an artificial intelligence system

What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

  • It describes the action of machines accomplishing tasks that have historically required human intelligence.
  • It includes technologies like machine learning, pattern recognition, big data, neural networks, self algorithms etc
  • AI involves complex things such as feeding a particular data into the machine and making it react as per the different situations. It is basically about creating self-learning patterns where the machine can give answers to the never answered questions like a human would ever do.
  • AI is different from hardware driven robotic automation. Instead of automating manual tasks, AI performs frequent high volume computerised tasks reliably.

Benefits and Potential of AI

  • Multi-sectoral applications: Already, AI has helped increase crop yields, raised business productivity, improved access to credit and made cancer detection faster and more precise.
  • Boosts Economic Growth: It could contribute more than $15 trillion to the world economy by 2030, adding 14% to global GDP. Google has identified over 2,600 use cases of “AI for good” worldwide.
  • Enabler for SGDs: A study published in Nature reviewing the impact of AI on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) finds that AI may act as an enabler on 134 — or 79% — of all SDG targets.

What’s the issue with South Africa granting Patent?

  • At first glance, a recently granted South African patent relating to a “food container based on fractal geometry” seems fairly mundane.
  • The innovation in question involves interlocking food containers that are easy for robots to grasp and stack.
  • On closer inspection, we notice that the inventor is not a human being — it is an artificial intelligence (AI) system called DABUS. The invention was entirely devised by the DABUS.
  • The patent application listing DABUS as the inventor was filed in patent offices around the world, including the U.S., Europe, Australia, and South Africa. But only South Africa granted the patent (Australia followed suit a few days later after a court judgment gave the go-ahead).
    • The United States Patent and Trademark Office and the European Patent Office rejected these applications in the formal examination phase.

What is the DABUS?

  • DABUS stands for “device for the autonomous bootstrapping of unified sentience”.
  • It is an AI system created by Stephen Thaler, a pioneer in the field of AI and programming.
  • The system simulates human brainstorming and creates new inventions.
  • DABUS is a particular type of AI, often referred to as “creativity machines” because they are capable of independent and complex functioning.

What are the ‘Creativity machines’?

  • Creativity machines can process and critically analyse data, learning from it. This process is known as machine learning.
  • Once the machine learning phase has occurred, the machine is able to “autonomously” create without human intervention. 
  • Prior to DABUS, Thaler built another AI which created novel sheet music, and which he credited with inventing the cross-bristle toothbrush design.

Why are some experts opposing this move?

  • First, their respective patent laws only provide for human inventors — not AI — as indicated by the use of pronouns such as “him” and “her” in their text.
  • Second, ideas, for the purposes of patents, require the element of “mental conception” — something of which only a human mind is capable.
  • Finally, inventorship comes with rights, which AI is not legally capable of possessing.
  • The critics argued that it was the incorrect decision in law, as AI lacks the necessary legal standing to qualify as an inventor.
  • Critics feel that if South Africa instead had a substantive search and examination system in place, the DABUS patent application would have been rejected. 


Given the policy environment and the vast potential of AI, the granting of the patent makes sense. Perhaps this will turn out to be a strategic masterclass by the South African office which will lead to a much more innovative nation.

Connecting the dots:

News Source: TH

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