In the first article in this series I looked at the US approach to the role of the inventor in patent law and practice, and at the recent decision of Judge Leonie M Brinkema in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (‘EDVA’) upholding the USPTO’s decision to refuse two patent applications on the basis that the ‘AI’ machine DABUS is not a human being and therefore cannot be an inventor under US law (Stephen Thaler v Andrew Hirshfeld and the US Patent and Trademark Office, Mem. Op. [PDF 998kB]). In this article, I shall turn my attention to the split decision of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales in Thaler v Comptroller General of Patents Trade Marks And Designs  EWCA Civ 1374, in which parallel efforts to name DABUS as an inventor have also been rejected, with Thaler’s appeal being dismissed despite a weighty dissent by Lord Justice Birss.
The issues in the UK case are somewhat different, and more nuanced, than in the US. While all three judges on the Court of Appeal agreed that an ‘inventor’ under the UK law must be a human being, the fact that DABUS is a machine was not immediately determinative of the outcome. An inventor is not required to play any active role in the filing, prosecution, or grant of a patent in the UK, so arguably there remains a question as to whether an application can be permitted to proceed even if a legally valid inventor has not been – or cannot be – named. In the event, the answer to this question turned on whether or not the applicant (i.e. Dr Thaler) could satisfy statutory requirements to name the inventor, and to indicate how he is entitled to be granted patents on inventions that he did not claim to have devised himself.
Lord Justice Arnold and Lord Justice Birss disagreed on the outcome, with the tie being broken by Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing, agreeing with Arnold LJ that the DABUS applications should be deemed withdrawn.
Arnold LJ is the preeminent patent law specialist on the Court of Appeal. He was elevated to the Court of Appeal in 2019, after being appointed to the High Court in 2008, and as Judge in Charge of the Patents Court in April 2013. In March 2016 he was appointed as an External Member of the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office. Impressive as this is, however, Birss LJ is no lightweight. In 2010 he was appointed as a Specialist Circuit Judge sitting in what was then the Patents County Court. In 2013 he was appointed to the High Court, and in 2019 he filled the place formerly held by Arnold LJ as Judge in Charge of the Patents Court, before being elevated to the Court of Appeal in January 2021.
So this is a case in which the dissenting judgment must be taken seriously, especially with the possibility still open of an appeal to the Supreme Court. But for now, at least, the balance of the law remains against DABUS in the UK.