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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I fully understand the intention behind the amendment and welcome the opportunity to set the record straight, because my comments at Second Reading may have been misleading. The Official Report states that we will amend the patent rules "to prevent" an inventor keeping his address confidential. That was not at all the sense of what I said. What I hope that I said was that we of course intend to make amendments to the rules to permit this. So I take this opportunity to correct that mistakewhich may have been mine when I said it; but the official record certainly got it wrong.
That is a point that we have considered in detail ourselves, as part of the development of the Bill. Under the European Patent Convention, an inventor may, if he is not also the patent applicant, request that his details are kept confidential. As part of our consultation on implementing the revised EPC, we sought to assess users' enthusiasm for such a provision in our law.
The noble Lord, Lord Razzall, said at Second Reading and again today that a number of those who responded to the consultation were in favour of our proposal. That is true, but the more salient point is that the majority of respondents were not in favour of the possibility that an inventor's name might be kept confidential. They were less concerned about other details being kept confidentialnotably, the address.
Respondents argued that for a variety of reasons it would not be appropriate to keep the inventor's name a secret. The noble Lord mentioned some of those reasons. For example, those who search patent databases or provide patent-watching services would
Respondents also pointed out the rather insignificant advantage of the UK pressing ahead alone with such provision when other countries still require that information to be published. Indeed, under United States law, the patent application must be filed by the inventor himself.
I shall make one final point. As I mentioned at Second Reading, we understand that there are concerns among scientists and others who are involved in the development of controversial technologies. As the Minister with responsibility for science, I am extremely aware of that and of the activities of animal rights extremists. However, I must say that that concern focuses not on patents but on the whole question of animal experiments. I am unaware of any great focus by such groups on patents, although that may arise later.
On patent applications, inventors have always hadand will retainthe ability to give their employer's address instead of their home address. Furthermore, as I said a few moments ago, we intend to make changes to the patent rules, so that an inventor who is not a patent applicant can keep his address confidential. I believe that that is the appropriate response in the light of the consultation responses.
The general public has a fundamental right to know. That is part of the deal when the state bestows a right in the form of a patent. That process should be as open as possible but, again, as with animal experiments, we want to protect people. On the other hand, it is right that a certain amount of information is made available.
Lord Razzall: I shall obviously think about what the Minister has said. At the moment, I am unpersuaded. On the consultation argument, of course the overwhelming majority of those consulted would have given the answer that the Minister said. Very few people think that they will make the sort of invention that we are concerned about today. So far as I am aware, there was no major consultation exercise with animal scientists, nor was there a major consultation with other limited technological groups. The overwhelming majority of people who have been patent agents or professionals working in the industry would not have wanted this to go in, for all the reasons that they have given. This would limit their ability to search, and so forth.
Finally, the Minister is being a little disingenuous on his point about other jurisdictions, particularly the United States, in the consultation exercise. According to the papers, that point was made by one person; no
I think that this is a straight trade-off between protecting the rights of a limited number of individuals against the benefit to a wider group of people who are patent agents and those operating in the industry. To follow on from a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, I am not suggesting that applicants must keep their details secret. The applicant might be GlaxoSmithKline or whoever. It is only the actual inventors who should have the right to remain anonymous, if they so desire. I am not certain why, if GlaxoSmithKline should make an application, it seriously matters to those trying to search the area. That is probably a bad exampleit is probably not in the sort of area with which I am concerned. I am just using it as a multi-national example. I am not entirely certain why it matters to professionals who the actual inventor was. Surely, they need to know who the applicant was.
Earl Attlee: The Minister raised the difficulty of patent professionals researching. Perhaps that could be addressed by having an alias or reference number for the inventor so that the ability to search databases would still exist; for example, a particular inventor would continue to come up under GlaxoSmithKline. There would be no loss of searching ability, except that it would not be possible to identify an individual, because it is very easy to work out someone's home address.
The noble Lord said: In speaking to Amendment No. 6, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 7. Amendment No. 7 is a rather less drastic tool than a clause stand part amendment, but my noble friend Lord Lyell will speak on the Question whether Clause 9 shall stand part.
While Section 40 and the Bill's intention of rewarding employees is laudable, this is a more complex area than might at first appear. Serious concerns and even outright opposition have been expressed by employers, trade unions and patent practitioners. Section 40 is not often mitigated, but that does not mean that it is of no use. It is always there
Amendment No. 6 would bring employee representatives into the equation. If I suggested that all employers and trade unions must have agreements in place to cover inventions of outstanding benefit to the employer, I would rightly be accused of seeking to introduce more unnecessary bureaucracy. Only certain types of organisations are likely to become involved with Section 40. If my amendment is agreed to, those employers would be wise to have in place suitable detailed agreements in advance of these problems. Not only should the agreements cover inventions and patents, but other ideas and suggestions as well. It is not only the inventor who should be rewarded, but the whole team when a successful project is of "outstanding benefit" to the employer.
The effects of the proposals in Clause 9 are unpredictable. I think that Amendment No. 7 is a new type of opposition amendment, but I fear that it is not patentable. It allows the clause to have effect, but only for six years after the Act comes into force. After five years, the Minister can make an order under the affirmative procedure to extend the provision indefinitely. However, if it is discovered that the provision is undesirable, such as, for instance, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989, it could be quietly dropped without any action being taken by the Minister of the day. I beg to move.
Lord Lyell: I follow and support to some degree my noble friend Lord Attlee. The Minister suggested that there might be some difficulty with what he either said or was purported to have said at Second Reading. Perhaps the Minister and other noble Lords are aware that I also said something along these lines, although an entire paragraph of my speech was missed out. It may have been relevant to what we are discussing and what I may come to discuss when we consider whether Clause 9 should stand part of the Bill. I may have one or two passing comments to make on that.
The Minister was kind enough to confirm what I hoisted as a hopeful lob to him. In the particular cases arising under Section 40 or Clause 9, there tends to be a team of people present. The Minister and my noble friend who has presented these two amendments are conscious that in almost all cases there will be watertight and solid agreements, if not necessarily legal agreements, for employees coming to work in a particular industry. The two types of industry referred to by the Minister at the conclusion of his speech at Second Reading were the pharmaceutical and aerospace industries. Those industries are highly specialised, scientific operations. Where a major breakthrough is made, in almost all cases there will be some form of meaningful and helpful agreement so that the employee or group of employees dealing with a particular patentable device will be rewarded or, at the least, will feel that they have been rewarded. I pointed out that, among the pharmaceutical firms I
We are probably cantering along the same course, but if the Minister could reassure both my noble friend, who has presented his case so persuasively, and me we would much look forward to that.
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