Could extraterrestrial technology be patented? (That’s a good question)

Could a human patent an alien invention? This somewhat absurd question does not, however, provide as clear an answer as one might think… Intellectual property rights remain complex, especially when it comes to extraterrestrials! And precisely, the fact that they are, if they exist, beings outside the Earth, greatly complicates things in terms of patents. Imagine for a moment that an alien invents a product that humans could use on a daily basis? Who would own the intellectual property? We will explain everything to you, but you will understand that in the end, everything is quite “logical”!

What is an invention patent?

The first thing to know is that each country has the power to recognize patents for its citizens, and only for them… Thus, French patent law, for example, only applies to a inventor of French nationality, and the same goes for all countries. We tend to forget that because nowadays most countries recognize intellectual property rights worldwide through international agreements and treaties ruling on patents. This is the case, for example, of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the Berne Convention or the Paris Convention for the protection of industrial property of 1883. This last convention of Paris establishes the right of priority so that a first invention in a country is considered as an art prior to an invention in another country.

A regenerating bacta tank. Photo credit: Boba Fett’s Book & Star Wars V

Patented, yet pirated technologies…

In the United States, the patent law dates from 1793 and gave patents to many Americans, who were only poor patent pirates filed in other countries. Preventing “real” inventors from obtaining the American patent, since it has already been filed… For example, Francis Cabot Lowell is the inventor of the electric loom, but his process was taken over by Edmund Cartwright by an act of espionage in 1812, then ceded to Samuel Slater who filed the patent. In the United States, the man is nicknamed The Father of American Manufactures, while in the United Kingdom, he is called Slater the traitor!

A few dubious modern patents?

There are even easier ways to get patents on space alien technology. In some countries such as Australia, China and Serbia, there are “petty patents” which are issued without being examined. This means that the patent is granted very quickly without anyone trying to find out who filed it or even what the invention consists of. In most countries, the law on patent filings comes back to the first inventor to file, but it can be invalidated if someone manages to demonstrate that a patent for the same product was filed more than a year before the filing!

And our extraterrestrials then?

Let’s come back to our extraterrestrial who is therefore not a citizen of an identified country, and even less of a country that has signed these agreements. In all the countries of the world, only humans can benefit from the property of invention and therefore from their patent. A monkey recently applied for registration of the copyright for a selfie, but a US court threw it out. An artificial intelligence (AI) machine was patented in several countries, but was ultimately rejected in the US, UK and Europe. In contrast, South Africa was the first country to recognize an invention filed by an artificial intelligence machine; So things are changing on that side as well!

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