Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Lyell: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, who has spelled everything out clearly. I entirely agree that patents or ideas may relate to military technology. I think that he said that the content of such patents may be scrutinised only by a select band of people; we understand that. I suspect that there have been only a handful of such cases—if that—even since 1977. What about Japanese and United States inventors who may for some reason want to file a patent at the European Patent Office? No doubt they would be represented by an excellent British patent agent, who would advise the client on whether the patent or idea might contain military technology. Biotechnology could be put to a bad use—anthrax, or something similar.

Can the Minister reassure me that there is a method by which the foreign would-be patentee would receive the same protection as a British patentee, assuming that they are both using a British patent agent, in passing through those hoops? I presume that the patent would be presented to the Patent Office here and the European Patent Office. Would the same protection be afforded a foreign patentee as a British one, given the provision of new Section 23(3) about knowingly or recklessly filing? If someone knows that he is on slippery ground but for some reason wants to file a European patent, can he be warned off?

However, I should not want foreign inventors or businesses who for good reason wanted to file a patent and used British agents to be in any way disadvantaged. I doubt that they would be; even in my fertile imagination I do not suspect that there would be more than one or two such cases. Indeed, I wonder whether Section 23 has in fact been used; or is that confidential and not to be disclosed? I suspect that it is very much a long stop, but I want to ensure that it will not be unduly restrictive and help British agents, above all.

Lord Triesman: The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, has given a cogent description of the circumstances in which we are trying to assist all those seeking patents in sensitive areas to operate. Foreign patentees using British agents are subject to the restrictions, and that is why we want to make sure they are regulated in appropriate areas and that they are deregulated where appropriate.

I should add to the point I made just a few moments ago about those wishing to test the sensitivity question being perfectly free to submit it for the judgment of the comptroller in the sense that has already been covered. However, it is also true to say that these areas, which often involve defence contractors, are in any case covered by the Official Secrets Act 1989. In that sense,

8 Mar 2004 : Column GC352

therefore, there is a further fallback position into the realm of security. I think that I can confirm the point about which I have been asked.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for fully explaining the purpose of these amendments. We have no problem with their substance. Practically any deregulation is welcome. However, can the Minister illustrate the difference between the words "prejudicial to national security" and,

    "prejudicial to the safety of the public"?

Those phrases are very similar and further clarification would be helpful.

The Minister's explanation was so comprehensive that half of my speech is now redundant.

Lord Triesman: I believe that the intention of using these two phrases, ones commonly employed in legislation of this kind, is to cover every possible eventuality and to make sure that it is a comprehensive description. National security issues are obviously those areas where—to use the expression I used in my first submission to this Grand Committee today—the interests of the realm are at stake. The security of the public is a closely associated concept, but addresses abnormal danger to members of the public from the use of dangerous materials and so forth. The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, posed one of his questions in those terms. However, I confirm that the two expressions most certainly are closely related.

Earl Attlee: I am grateful for the Minister's explanation. Did the words "safety of the public" already appear in the legislation or is this an addition? While I am grateful for the deregulatory aspects of the amendments, is this a new provision or was it set out in the 1977 Act?

Lord Triesman: The words were chosen to ensure complete parity with Section 22.

Lord Skelmersdale: Before my noble friends decide what to do with this amendment, I want to raise a point. Government Amendment No. 23, the amendment to Schedule 2, is grouped with it, and makes a change in the heading of Section 22 of the 1977 Act from "defence of the realm" to "national security". Of course, to an extent the expressions mean the same thing, but over recent weeks we have been reading in the press about the Government's desire, in certain areas of the law, to remove any reference to Her Majesty the Queen, to royalty and the like. I wonder whether this alteration is part of the progression of that aspect of government thinking.

Lord Triesman: No, that is not the case. I recall this issue arising in various forms during debates in your Lordships' House. I think that I can say with complete confidence that we are trying to use phraseology that has been used both in past legislation and, in the contemporary sense, in current legislation to refer to the kinds of security of the realm with which we are all familiar.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

8 Mar 2004 : Column GC353

4 p.m.

Lord Razzall moved Amendment No. 5:

    After Clause 6, insert the following new clause—

In section 13 of the 1977 Act (mention of inventor), after subsection (1) there is inserted—
"(1A) When the applicant for a patent is not the inventor or joint inventor of the invention, the inventor or joint inventor shall have a right not to have their names and addresses mentioned on any patent granted for the invention and shall also have a right not to be so mentioned if possible in any published application for a patent for the invention and, if not so mentioned, a right not to be so mentioned in accordance with rules in a prescribed document.""

The noble Lord said: The discussion so far has been pretty technical, relating to amendments moved by noble Lords on the Conservative Benches and by the Government. This is the first amendment that, although, in theory, rather dry, touches on matters that go outside the scope of the Patents Act 1977.

When the UK Patent Office implemented its extensive consultation process, it asked whether an amendment along the lines of the one that I have tabled should be made to the Bill, to bring the UK into line with the provisions of the European Patent Convention. From the Patent Office's report, it seems that there was a mixed response to the consultation. Quite a number of respondents thought that it was a good idea, and I shall come to the reasons why. The arguments against related to the loss by IP professionals of a useful tool for searching patent applications, and it was thought that that would cause severe problems with investigating entitlement matters.

The Minister will be as aware as I am that, in certain areas of science, there are organisations that wish to behave in a vindictive and possibly violent manner towards inventors. I will be interested to hear the Minister's response, for I am not certain why individuals should be put at risk simply to make searching patent applications or investigating entitlement matters more convenient, if they do not wish to be put at risk.

I think that Her Majesty's Government will suggest that regulations can be made so that an individual's address can be deleted, leaving only the name on the application. With a name such as mine, I must say that it would not take Sherlock Holmes to discover who I or, indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, were and where we lived, should either of us make an invention in this area. For Sainsbury, there would be a lot of outlets to search.

I am not sure that the Government should, for such reasons, deny inventors—even if it is a limited number—the protection that I seek. It would be possible to deal with overriding confidentiality in an inventorship entitlement or employee compensation dispute. I am sure that regulations could be made to deal with that. The fundamental point is that, given the climate in which we operate and the particularly violent way in which some organisations—in a

8 Mar 2004 : Column GC354

restricted but none the less important field—operate, an inventor should have the protection of anonymity, if he so chooses. I beg to move.

Earl Attlee: I have put my name to the amendment, which the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, has moved far better than I could. My contribution on the amendment may be short, but the Minister should not underestimate my support for it. The Government should address the issue.

Lord Lyell: I shall follow in an inquisitorial role. At Second Reading, the Minister's reply was extraordinarily good. However, I would like him to clear up his last sentence. I think he said:

    "Moreover, we intend to change the patent rules to prevent an inventor who is not the patent applicant keeping his address confidential. Thus it is not necessary or appropriate to include anything in the Bill".—[Official Report, 26/1/04; col. 45.]

Would the patent applicant be the firm or the individual? The Minister, who obviously thinks that the inventor who is not the patent applicant should be able to keep his address confidential, chose his words carefully. Would I be right in thinking that the inventor would be the firm and the patent applicant may be an individual or team of individuals? Perhaps the Minister would clarify that small point when he replies to the excellent proposition advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page