Tag Archives: inventor

What Does it Mean to be an Inventor? The Inventor Diary Project and Kicking off the Diversity Pilots Initiative Blog Series

Guest Post by Colleen V. Chien, Founder of the Diversity Pilots Initiative (DPI), Professor of Law and Co-Director the High Tech Law Institute, Santa Clara University School of Law

A down payment on a house, a sense of being seen, the pride of one’s parents and children, validation of one’s creativity, a permanent mark, and confidence – these are just some of the answers received to the question, “what does being an inventor mean to you?” Though the patent system exists to promote innovation, it also serves to promote inventors and innovators. Today, on World IP Day, this post shares the often-overlooked personal journeys of invention that patent professionals play a crucial role in, by encouraging idea submission, collaborating with engineers and innovators, managing outside counsel, and in patent drafting, prosecuting claims,  patent examining, and studying and teaching patenting. This post is the first in a series by the Diversity Pilots Initiative (DPI), which strives to advance inclusive innovation so that all may access its benefits – including the social, confidence, and economic boosts chronicled in these diaries –  through rigorous research.

The question in various forms was asked in a survey of inventors and recognized innovators carried out from April 15-24, 2023 by myself and the IP team at Pure Storage, a company partner of the Diversity Pilots Initiative doing innovative work in invention and innovation led by Elizabeth Morris (SCU Law ‘06), Frances Winkler, and Joseph Kucera.  (response rate of ~25%). For more stories, and to add your own story , visit the “Inventor’s Diary” at www.diversitypilots.org.

What did becoming an inventor mean to you?

“As an engineer you are usually stuck in an endless cycle of building the next billion-dollar product and in the world of every evolving and every updating software, most of our work is never permanent. But when you become an inventor and build something which no one ever thought of, you make a permanent mark of your existence in the tech industry. I still remember how happy I was when I filed my first patent back which was a moment of great joy and pride. And as time went by, I filed multiple patents and I felt more confident and more accomplished.” – Kshithij Iyer, became an inventor at age 27

“Being recognized as an inventor validates one’s creativity, empowering one to do more.” – Sujesha S.,  became an inventor at age 38

“My kids have bragged to their friends at school that I have a patent. My mom knows and I think I’m the first in my family to get one. So that’s pretty cool for her when she talks to her friends about her son. I sent her a copy so she knows it is real. It’s probably up on her wall next to the rabbit I finger-painted in school.” – Scott S., young-at-heart

What has becoming inventors meant to your team?

“Previous to our first invention being approved, my team had never really wanted to submit anything, due to concerns about the possible negative impact that may result if it was not a success.  With this first patent, we have put this concern behind us and are driving forward.  The help and advice of the patent team has massively helped give us confidence in our abilities, as has as the slick process they have developed. The team and myself believe we are seen and perceived as the go-to experts in many areas of technology and much of this could be attributed or linked to this first patent.” – Chris R, Senior Director of Engineering

What has being an inventor meant to your family and community?

“My family directly benefited from the patent awards I received … they helped increase the down payment on my home.  This helped me put down more permanent roots in my community.  We needed increased space at the time due to my third child on her way.  My family know that I have received patents, and they know that my employer is happy with me. I have applied my engineering mind to help solve problems in my condo community and church, and have seen some benefit there.”  – Randy S., became an inventor at age 28.

What has becoming a recognized innovator* meant to you?

“I would say that becoming a recognized innovator meant creativity for me. Often legal isn’t seen as a creative department but Pure Inclusive Innovation program that the IP Team at Pure has built proves that wrong. After my experience, I am more confident in my ideas and sharing them. Becoming a recognized innovator taught me that you don’t have to hold a specific title or have a certain tenure to make a difference. Everyone has something to offer, and change can come from the most unexpected places.” – Amber Winburn, Legal Operations Analyst,  first received company recognition for becoming an innovator at age 29.

“The IP team came to the office to do a presentation on the Innovator program. A couple weeks later, I was in a situation where I heard a customer’s struggle with the upgrade process due to his colorblindness. It seemed like there would be a simple fix for this accessibility issue and, while I thought it over, I thought I didn’t know where to go with it. And then when I came to the office, I remembered the team’s presentation and immediately reached out. The rest is history!”   – Jennifer A., first received company recognition for becoming an innovator at age 55.

For more stories, and to add your own story , visit the “Inventor’s Diary” at www.diversitypilots.org/diary.

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About the Diversity Pilots Initiative and DPI Blog Series

 Researchers with the Diversity Pilots initiative work with firms, organizations and others to conduct and produce empirical research, including surveys and rigorous (randomized or quasi-experimental) pilots, to produce insights to advance diversity and inclusion in innovation and invention. If you are interested in our work, we’d love to work with you too! We have expertise in econometric, observational, survey and other empirical methods, and are experts in topics ranging from mentoring to inequality in innovation to government policy. We intend for our blog to disseminate research findings on “what works” to advance diversity and inclusion in innovation and inventing. Watch this space for more blog posts from the Initiative, many of which will draw from last fall’s inaugural Innovator Diversity Pilots Conference, subscribe to our updates, and get in touch to share your own innovator or innovation journey with us at www.diversitypilots.org.

Professor Chien thanks Sydney Yang, SCU Law ’22, for her help with the blog post.

Are you an inventor? Share your story


All Inventors are Human; All Humans are Inventors

by Dennis Crouch

Petitioners in Thaler v. Vidal ask the Supreme Court one simple question:

Does the Patent Act categorically restrict the statutory term ‘inventor’ to human beings alone?

Thaler Petition for Writ of CertiorariOnly a court with substantial hubris would be willing to take-on this case, but I’m confident that the Supreme Court is up for the task.

The power of AI tools has become viscerally apparent over the past few months and hopefully members of the court have been shown chatGPT or some other generative AI tools that are now widely available (if still quite flawed).  We are are now at a point where it is easy to see an AI tool creating inventive output. And, even if recognition of the invention is fundamental to the inventing process, the AI tools certainly provide sufficient contribution to be considered for joint inventorship.

In general, we take an objective approach to patentability focusing on whether the result is a substantial step beyond what was known before and looking for objective evidence within the patent document of sufficient disclosure.  Some early 20th century courts had alluded to a potential subjective test, but Congress rejected that in the 1952 Patent Act, writing that “Patentability shall not be negatived by the manner in which the invention was made.”  35 U.S.C. 103.  The basic idea here is that we have a public policy goal of encouraging innovation and invention, “promot[ing] the Progress of Science and useful Arts.”  And Congress concluded that a key way to get results is to reward results.

In Thaler’s case, the PTO and courts short-circuited the patentability analysis because the purported inventor is a machine, and machines simply are not permitted to be inventors.

The pending case involves a human named Thaler (Dr. Stephen Thaler) who created an “imagination engine” named DABUS.  According to thus-far undisputed allegations, DABUS created two inventions and also recognized their utility without any specific guidance from a human.  In Thaler’s view, DABUS was the inventor since it was the “individual . . . who invented or discovered the subject matter of the invention.” 35 USC 100(f).   But, the USPTO refused to award a patent because the listed inventor was inhuman.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed — holding that the word “individual” found in 100(f) was properly interpreted as applying only to humans.  One oddity of this conclusion is that definition was added in 2011 as part of the America Invents Act, and without any suggestion on record that the amendment was intended to exclude robots or non-humans.

Thaler’s new petition asks the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case and so some simple statutory interpretation of the word “individual” in context of Section 100(f) and (g).  According to Thaler, the statute is designed to focus attention on the entity that actually does the inventing and does not limit its scope to “humans” or “natural persons,” the common mechanisms used by Congress.

Professor Ryan Abbot has been Counsel of Record for Thaler throughout the case.  Thaler added Mark Davies and his Orrick team for this petition.  Earlier in March, the UK Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the UK version of the patent, asking whether “section 13(2)(a) of the Patents Act 1977 (the “1977 Act”) require a person to be named as the inventor in all cases, including where the applicant believes the invention was created by an AI machine in the absence of a traditional human inventor?”  The UKIPO Comptroller-General refused the application and that decision was affirmed on appeal. [2021] EWCA Civ 1374.

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Assuming Thaler loses here, the unsatisfying solution appears to be that the owner or user of the AI will simply be claiming rights as the constructive inventor.  Thaler has a pending application in the EPO suggesting himself as the inventor as owner of DABUS. This approach substantially stretches the law of inventorship.  In the U.S., limitations on challenging inventors mean that many inventive entities can de facto stretch the notion of inventorship without getting caught.

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If you are interested in supporting Thaler’s position, brief in support will be in about 30-days. (Depending upon the docket date, that has not been released yet).