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

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    19th Aug, 2021


South Africa’s patent office, the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission, granted the patent to a food container based on fractal geometry invented by DABUS.


  • The patent application for listing DABUS as the inventor was filed in patent offices of different countries (including Australia, United States, Europe, and South Africa).
  • The application was rejected by the United States Patent and Trademark Officeand the European Patent Office in the formal examination phase. They gave three reasons:
    • Only human inventors: Their respective patent laws only provide for human inventors and NOT for Artificial Intelligence.
    • Lack of mental conception: Ideas, for the purposes of patents, require the element of “mental conception”. Such conception is only present in a human mind and not in AI.
    • Rights issue: Furthermore, inventorship comes with ‘rights’, which AI is not legally capable of possessing.
  • At last, only South Africa granted the patent to DABUS as inventor for “a food container based on fractal geometry”.


What is DABUS?

  • Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience or DABUS is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system.
  • Created by: Stephen Thaler
  • It 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.
  • The system differs from everyday AI like Siri (the voice of Apple’s iPhones).

What are creativity machines?

  • Creativity machines have the capability to process and critically analyze data, learning from it.
  • This process is called machine learning.
  • After the occurrence of the machine learning phase, the machine is able to “autonomously” create without human intervention.

Why South Africa’s decision received backlash?

  • South Africa’s decision to grant patent has received widespread backlash from intellectual property experts which argued that-
    • Unlawful: As per the law, the decision was incorrect, as AI lacks the necessary legal standing to qualify as an inventor. 
    • Less reliable commission: This approval was simply an oversight on the part of the commission, which has been known in the past to be less than reliable.
    • No formal examination in the process: Moreover, this is clearly an indictment of the country’s patent procedures, which currently only consist of a formal examination step.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

  • AI is simply the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs.
  • It is related to the similar task of using computers to understand human intelligence..

AI in India

  • The last half decade have witnessed significant uptake of AI-focused innovation in India, with over 4,000 AI patents being filed during the period.
    • This is six times higher than the figure for 2011-2015.
  • On a global front, India was ranked eighth in the top 10 countries by AI patent families.
  • Prior to 2002, the country had no AI-related patent filing.

Key-AI initiatives of Indian Government

  • US-India AI Initiative: The Indo-US Science and Technology Forum (IUSSTF) launched the US-India Artificial Intelligence Initiative in March 2021.
    • Aim: To foster AI innovation by sharing ideas and experiences, identifying new opportunities in research and development and bilateral collaboration. 
  • Responsible AI for Youth: It is a national programme for government schools to empower the young generation to become AI-ready and reduce the skill gap in India.
    • Established by: the National e-Governance Division of MeitY
    • Aim: To help the students develop a new-age tech mindset and relevant skill-sets. 
  • MCA 3.0 portal: The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) recently launched a new version of its portal, version 3.0, MCA 21, which will leverage data analytics, AI, and ML, to simplify regulatory filings for companies. 
  • AI portal: A dedicated artificial intelligence (AI) portal, India AIis slated as a central hub for everything. The portal will act as a one-stop-shop for all AI-related developments and initiatives in India. 
    • Jointly developed by: MeitY and NASSCOM in June 2020
  • Promoting AI in schools: NCERT is preparing a new National Curriculum Framework for School Education in pursuance of the National Education Policy 2020. This will also aim at introducing a basic course on AI at the secondary level.


With the patent approval, South Africa wants to increase innovation to solve its socio-economic issues
Given the policy environment and the vast potential of AI, the granting of the patent makes sense.


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