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The Patent Office's relocation to Newport was recently highlighted in the Lyons report as the ideal example of a relocation of company based in the south-east of England, and there are plans to relocate other civil service jobs outside the overheated south-east. As the Welsh proverb states:
"Hawdd cynnau tân arhen aelwyd",
which means, "It is easy to kindle a fire on an old hearth." The Office for National Statistics, the UK Passport Service and most recently the Patent Office have all found a very suitable habitat for their staff in Newport. The Patent Office immediately saved very large sums in rent, and its turnover was reduced to about one tenth of the original figure. Virtually all the staff who moved to south Wales have stayed there; indeed, many of those who are now retired have stayed in the area. It has been a huge success story.
My hon. Friend is right to point to the excellent work done by the excellent staff of the Patent Office in Newport, but, as he knows, Companies House, which is based in Cardiff, is another example of a DTI agency that works well in Wales.
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Mr. Ian Taylor: I cannot restrain myself from pointing out that I had not realised that the previous Conservative Government had given such a blessing to Newport, West. Having visited the Patent Office when I was a Minister, I am delighted to see that things have worked out so well for the hon. Gentleman.
Paul Flynn: Yes, they have. I should point out that the previous Labour Government provided for other high technology relocations, such as the former British technological board. This is an ongoing process, and despite a certain political antagonism against the city, our magnetic attraction is such that it overcomes any such objections. I am very happy to thank Administrations of both colours for wisely relocating such agencies to Newport, West.
The Patent Office has achieved its fourth successive charter mark, and in order to maintain this award it has developed the dynamic approach that I mentioned. That approach not only builds on existing services; it also uses technology to offer new and more targeted services, including widening the consultation base to enable it offer a more personalised service.
Another example of achievement is the Patent Office's accreditation to the ISO 9001:2000. That accolade constitutes international recognition as a centre of excellence, and recognition of its patenting processes and the way in which it manages its business. Such recognition reflects the quality of services that the Patent Office is able to provide for customers, the development of its staff, and its reputation and influence. I am fortunate to have such an organisation in my constituency, and I have every confidence that it will meet the challenge of delivering the new opinions provided for in clause 13 to a very high standard. It also has a remarkably good record of dealing with a wide range of staff, including some who have problems with mobility, and some who have not attained high qualifications. It has been a good servant of the town, and a model employer.
Britain has a patent tradition that stretches over six centuries, and the Bill should set the framework for that tradition to continue. As we have already heard from the Minister, its origins can be traced back to the 15th century, when the Crown started making specific grants of privilege to manufacturers and traders. The Patent Office came into being on 1 October 1852, so it celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2002. However, the forward-looking office based in the city of Newport is not recognisable from the times of Dickens, when the offices were full of quill pens and mid-19th century gloom. We would not expect to find in Newport the Lord Chancellor's Purse Bearer, the Deputy Chaff-Wax or any of the other Victorian characters who at one time ran our patent system.
The current Act has been in existence for more than 25 years, but things have by no means stood still since 1977. Although the Act has been modified many times
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by minor legislative changes, the patents rules are still the means by which many of the formal requirements and other details are set out. The current rules date from 1995although those too, have been amended several times.
The only aspect of the patent system that seems to have remained constant throughout the past six centuries is the need for legislative change, with pressure for reform and improvement often coming from users of the system, who have been able to see its flaws all too clearly. The need for continuous reform is ever present, and the Bill follows in the worthy footsteps of many earlier legislative initiatives.Perhaps when it achieves Royal Assent, the patent system will finally, 400 years after the Statute of Monopolies of 1623, be a model of perfectionbut possibly not. Perhaps in 20 years' time other MPs will come along to improve the system further.
Finally, in a spirit of rejoicing, I would like to quote a large advert that appeared last month in the glossy bits of all the Sunday newspapers, placed by a leading car manufacturer, Honda, which recognised the importance of intellectual property by focusing on the Patent Office. It drove home its slogan as follows:
"There is a place where dreamers go. Where crazy flights of fancy are valued above all else. Where the only good idea is an idea that's new born. Where dreams can become real. It's called The Patent Office, Concept House, the City of Newport M4, junction 28, first roundabout, and fourth exit. Do you believe in the power of dreams?"
Brian Cotter (Weston-super-Mare) (LD): In introducing the Bill, the Minister rightly pointed out that the future strength of the UK economy increasingly depends on our ability to exploit our knowledge resources and promote innovation. Patently, it has also been established that we can pronounce "patent" whichever way we like. I am glad of that, in case I make a mistake; both sides of the House seem to have agreed that if I do, it will not be seen as such.
Patents are an important part of safeguarding the home-grown innovation from which we want UK businesses to benefit. The Bill is therefore welcome for its first aimto update UK laws and ensure compliance with revised international agreements, so that British businesses can continue to exploit their new products throughout the globe.
However, in terms of the Bill's second objective, the proposed legislation seems to fall far short of achieving the Government's desired aim. The right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) made some references to that.
In the Department of Trade and Industry press release announcing the Bill on 16 January, the Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Sainsbury, said that the Bill's proposals would provide a more supportive framework, particularly for small businesses, to enforce patent rights and ensure that UK patent law continued to underpin and promote innovation. Yet that is exactly what the Bill does not do. Instead, it merely tinkers
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around the edges of the law, failing to address the fundamental point that the current patent system is stacked wholly against UK small firms.
In his report "Making Patents Useful to Small Firms", Professor William Kingston of Trinity college, Dublin, considered the value of the current patent system to small and medium-sized enterprises across the European Union, noting that in quite a number of cases use of the patent system left SMEs worse off than they would have been if it had not existed. He concluded that
"for every instance where it did provide benefit, there seemed to be several where it caused actual harm."
Professor Kingston further identified three specific groups of individuals and businesses that use the current patent system. By examining each group in turn, it is easy to highlight that system's failings.
The smallest group of patent applications identified by Professor Kingston are those of individuals and small businesses that are actually successful in securing a patent and going on to make money out of it. That group is by far the minority.
The second, largest, group is made up of those who make a patent application for reasons of vanity. They are mainly individuals who like the romantic idea of being an inventor or of being considered the next Einstein. Unsurprisingly, most such patents are never exploited commercially, often because they are unexploitable. None the less, that has not prevented the UK Patent Office from endorsing some of the more dubious inventions, and that raises some concern about how it operates.
The Minister spoke earlier about depending on the clear experience of the Patent Office in the past. Yet, in the 1960s and 1970s, a retired patent officer examiner, Arthur Pedrick, attempted to show how absurd the patent system was by taking out patents on a range of bizarre inventions. Shockingly, the Patent Office endorsed 162 of his madcap schemes, including UK patent number 1047735, which was his plan to get snowballs of 10 ft in diameter to run down mountains in Antarctica, attaining speeds of about 500 mph, then being piped to Australia where they could be used to solve the world's famine problems.
I could rest my case, but I will not. Patent number 1426698 was a plan for an automatic defence deterrent to solve the cold war problem. The United Nations would place nuclear bombs on three earth-orbiting satellites. If those satellites detected that one of the superpowers had been nuked, the bombs would automatically drop on Washington, Moscow and Peking, thus ensuring mutual destruction of all three. I am glad to see that London was not included; perhaps the gentleman lived here.
Those are examples of the folly of the Patent Office, if I may say so in the presence of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn). It has wasted a lot of time by taking on such things. I must not leave out Mr. Pedrick's vision of a chromatically selective cat flap, which would restrict entry to his home to just his ginger cat, not black, white or grey cats, by somehow barring those with differently coloured fur.
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