You may have seen our post at the end of last year where we looked at the English Court’s judgment in the DABUS case which made it abundantly clear that Dr Thaler’s artificial neural system called DABUS cannot be construed as an inventor within the meaning of the Patents Act 1977. The English Court has not been alone in that approach with the EPO and US PTO, among others, following the same path. These decisions have been appealed, and we are awaiting judgment.

We were therefore really interested to see today’s news in the Global Legal Post that South Africa has taken the opposite approach to the same patent application and has become the first country to grant a patent where an artificial intelligence machine is named as inventor (and the owner of that AI named as the patent’s owner).

Ryan Abbott, a University of Surrey professor representing Dr Thaler, told Global Legal Post: “This outcome represents an understanding of the importance of encouraging people to make, develop and use AI to generate socially valuable innovation. We hope it will serve as an example to the rest of the world as different jurisdictions think through how best to encourage the use of artificial intelligence to generate human benefits.”

By its nature, artificial intelligence challenges and disrupts traditions and habits, and South Africa’s decision here appears to do the same. It remains to be seen if this represents a turn in the tide, and we will certainly continue to watch developments in this area closely.