In Thaler v. Vidal, No. 21-2347 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 5, 2022), the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment because an “inventor” must be a natural person.

Thaler filed two patent applications that named an Artificial Intelligence (AI) program as the sole inventor. Thaler’s applications were deemed incomplete because they lacked a valid inventor. Thaler’s petition to the PTO director was denied on the grounds that a machine cannot qualify as an inventor. Thaler appealed the PTO’s decision to the Eastern District of Virginia, which granted the PTO’s motion for summary judgment concluding that an “inventor” must be an “individual” and that the individual must be a natural person.

In affirming the district court’s decision, the Federal Circuit found that the Patent Act unambiguously requires that inventors be human beings. The Court explained that the Patent Act provides that inventors are “individuals,” which is ordinarily understood to mean a natural person. See §§ 100(f)-(g), 115. The Court further explained that nothing in the Patent Act demonstrates that Congress intended to deviate from this default meaning. The Court rejected Thaler’s reliance on other sections of the Patent Act, namely 35 U.S.C. §§ 101, 103, and 271, because these sections do not trump the provision that specifically addresses who may be an inventor. The Court also found unpersuasive that South Africa has granted patents with DABUS as an inventor because that foreign patent office was not interpreting the Patent Act.