The University of Surrey-led team attempting to secure the award of a patent recognising an AI (artificial intelligence) as the inventor have had their first success – in South Africa.

After patent authorities in the UK, Europe and the USA turned down applications by an international team of lawyers and researchers led by the University's Professor Ryan Abbott (appeals are in progress), officials in South Africa have decided to award a patent that names the inventor as DABUS ("device for the autonomous bootstrapping of unified sentience").

The patent is for a food container based on fractal geometry, designed and created by DABUS.

While patent law in many jurisdictions is very specific in how it defines an inventor, the DABUS team is arguing that the status quo is not fit for purpose as AI plays an ever-increasing role in the design of ideas.

Professor Adrian Hilton, Director of the Institute for People-Centred AI at the University of Surrey, commented: "This is a truly historic case that recognises the need to change how we attribute invention. We are moving from an age in which invention was the preserve of people to an era where machines are capable of realising the inventive step, unleashing the potential of AI-generated inventions for the benefit of society.

"The School of Law at the University of Surrey has taken a leading role in asking important philosophical questions such as whether innovation can only be a human phenomenon, and what happens legally when AI behaves like a person. We are delighted our staff and students are at the forefront of these deeply significant debates, and now realities."