South Africa makes history by becoming the first to grant a patent to an AI system

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South Africa has become the first country in the world to give exclusive rights for an invention to an Artificial Intelligence system called the DABUS (Device of The Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience).

The patent was recently granted to the AI machine for developing an interlocking container based on fractal geometry, making this is a huge victory for the Artificial Inventor Project (AIP).

Led by Ryan Abbott from the University of Surrey, the project argues that AI can do the same thing that makes a human being qualified to be an inventor. In this case, DABUS’ invention involves interlocking food containers that are easy for robots to grasp and stack.

The DABUS, often referred to as a ‘creativity machine’, is a special type of AI machine that is capable of performing independent and complex functioning.

South Africa is the first country to grant a patent to an AI system


Created by Missouri Physicist Stephen Thaler, the machine simulates human brainstorming, conceptualizations and creates new inventions.

What does this mean for South Africa?

The research has shown that creativity machines like DABUS can process, critically analyse data and learn enough to “autonomously” create without human intervention. This means AI has the ability to solve problems deemed impossible by humans at a much faster rate than we can.

By granting this patent, we can assume that South Africa intends to turn to innovation to address the country’s socio-economic issues. This is a good thing considering the fact that AI could help address 79% of the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), according to a 2020 study published in Nature Communications.

AI has endless possibilities including remote learning, a necessity during this pandemic, improving agricultural production by analyzing plants to determine what treatments they need, improving health care through giving treatment plans and predicting future pandemics.

Still, there are a few concerns such as poor innovation levels, lack of funding and lack of suitable infrastructure.


The South African government’s decision to grant a patent to an AI system has been labelled a faux pass by intellectual property experts. They think the decision was made in ‘haste’.

Prior to South Africa, European Union, United Kingdom, and the United States have tried and failed to have patents attributed to Dabus’ inventions.

The previous patent applications by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the European Patent Office were rejected because they believe that patent laws were made for human inventors, not AI.

They also argue that patents, require the element of “mental conception,” something only attributed to the human mind, adding that an inventor on a patent application must have “legal capacity,” another thing AI doesn’t have.

As a result, some experts are calling for patents for a separate category of ‘inventions’ made by machines.

The South African goivernment is yet to explain its reasons for granting this controversial patent.

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