§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said it proposed to reduce the amount of fees on patents rather more than half. The fees on obtaining a patent were still considerable, and a large amount thus accrued to the revenue. The fees, however, when they were reduced from £342 to £175, in 1852, were not regulated with a view to revenue, and it was desirable to reduce the expenses as much as possible.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ SIR JOHN SHELLEY
seconded the Motion. The House ought to encourage inventions as much as possible, and ought not to interpose difficulties in the way of poor men taking out patents for their inventions.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, he opposed the Bill, not in defence of any interest which he might have in the fees, because the Bill did not profess to touch the fees of the law officers of the Crown, and, like their predecessors, the present law officers would offer no objection whenever Parliament thought fit to deal with the subject; but, because he thought that some further information should be given in regard to the Bill. The hon. Member had not explained to the House the nature and effect of his measure. He had merely said it was to reduce fees. Now, the Bill appeared to consist of two parts. It proposed in a very inexplicable clause—That, notwithstanding the Acts which at present regulate the law of patents, any person after the passing of this Act making a second application for letters patent and obtaining a provisional 517 protection and a grant of letters patent for the same invention for which a provisional protection had been previously allowed, such application shall be good, valid, and effectual.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, the additional words only made the clause much more mysterious. The result was, that the application of any person who before or after the passing of the Act had obtained a provisional protection for his invention would be valid and effectual; but any one who had a provisional protection or patent need not care whether his application for it was valid or not. This part of the Bill was simply a mode of increasing the business of the patent agents. They wanted to multiply the applications for provisional protection, and to extend the six months during which an inventor was bound to specify what his invention was, and proclaim it to the world as a condition upon which the patent was granted. He had never heard any one say that the period of six months was too short, and if there were an oversight, the Lord Chancellor had the power to extend it. As to the financial part of the Bill, it was more important to patent agents than to inventors. Prior to 1852 the fees of patents were exceedingly high—between £100 and £200. After a long and careful investigation into the whole subject, in the course of which persons of the greatest experience were examined, the conclusion arrived at was that, however desirable it might he to put no impediments in the way of meritorious inventors, there should be some checks at the proper stage to deter worthless applications for advertising purposes. Parliament, therefore, determined in 1852 that, in place of a large payment in the first instance, there should be three small payments extending over the period allowed for the completion of the patent, and three years afterwards. It might have been true, perhaps, that before 1852 a person who had made a useful discovery was prevented from securing its advantages in consequence of the expense of obtaining a patent. But how stood the matter now? An inventor now paid on his first application £5, at the end of three or four mouths, if he desired to proceed with his patent, he paid £5, and when the patent was complete he paid £15. He believed that since that change had been made, there had been no case of a meritorious inventor be- 518 ing prevented obtaining a patent through inability to supply £25. No doubt it would be of the greatest possible benefit to patent agents, whose Bill this was, if all fees were abolished, or even materially reduced, because their charges would not be at all affected; but it was determined in 1852, that the management of patents should be delegated to the Patent Commissioners, and that the office should, if possible, be self-supporting. After paying all expenses there was a small surplus, but the effect of reducing the fees would be to create a deficit of £10,000 a year, which must be supplied from the Consolidated Fund. Up to the present time the Patent Commissioners had paid an annual rent for offices, but they were about to be taken away, and the Commissioners would be obliged to build new offices. It was also considered desirable by the Commissioners that there should be a depository provided, in which the models, which were daily increasing, might be exhibited to workmen and artificers, and that a library should be opened where specifications of the patents of this, and foreign countries might be accessible to them without fee or remuneration. For these objects the Commissioners meant to apply to the Treasury for leave to use the surplus, which to the amount of £7,360 has accrued during the last five years, and the surplus which might accrue from year to year, and they had been offered a piece of ground, part of the site of the South Kensington Museum, where it was proposed to erect their new buildings. The amount of the present fees was not excessive, and the amount of the surplus would be applied to the benefit of inventors, and inventors alone. He ought to add, that it was provided by the present law, that at the end of the seventh year of a patent, another large sum was required to be paid; that sum had never been exacted yet, because the new Act had not yet been seven years in existence, but he might state that the Commissioners were of opinion that as soon as these necessary works were finished, which would make the Patent Office a complete establishment, it would be desirable to consider whether the larger fees might not be advantageously reduced; but he should deprecate that being done without previous investigation by Parliament, and it was premature to discuss it at the present moment. Although he had spoken of a library and museum, it must be understood that the Patent Commissioners did not conceive that any great expenses would 519 be required, or that the surplus of a great number of years would be absorbed; but, on the contrary, it was their desire that the works should be as simple as possible, having regard to the objects for which the building was intended. The expenditure could not take place without the control of Parliament, because the whole of the fees were paid into the Consolidated Fund, and Parliament voted annually every shilling of the expense. Under these circumstances, he trusted the House would adhere to the determination of 1852, and not make the reckless change which it was proposed by this Bill to effect.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said, that after all there was not much difference between himself and the hon. and learned Gentleman as to the Bill. It was a question of time between them. The hon. and learned Gentleman professed his anxiety to reduce the fees; but he wished first to have a museum and library completed. He (Mr. Duncombe) would be the last to stand in the way of such desirable objects, but was not Parliament guilty of a breach of faith in this matter? When the patent fees were fixed nothing was said about a library or museum. The fees were calculated as to what would make the Patent Office self-supporting. And he wanted to know why the poor patentees were to suffer in order to create those institutions, which, however, good in themselves, they had no more interest in than their fellow-country-men. The poor artisans of this country would rather keep the money in their own pockets. In France and in Beligium a patent could be got for between £3 and £4, while in England it cost £175. The object of this Bill was to assist the poor man, and to give him more time than the first twelve months to renew his application. If the House thought the present scale of fees was not too high of course the Bill would fail. But he maintained that it was not fair to take the money out of the pockets of the poor under the pretence of supporting the Patent Office, and then to take the surplus to build libraries and museums.
§ SIR JOHN SHELLEY
said, he could refer to cases that had fallen within his own recollection of village blacksmiths effecting valuable improvements in agricultural implements, and being unable to 520 take out the patent without obtaining assistance from others. The hon. and learned Gentleman had confessed that there was a surplus; and though he believed that the establishment of a museum and library would be a great benefit to the artisans, he did not see why inventors, of all men, should have to bear the expense. He denied that this Bill was for the exclusive benefit of the patent agents, and he could testify that many inventors took a great interest in the question. If the Bill was intended only for the benefit of the patent agents, all he could say was that he had been greatly deceived.
§ MR. SOTHERON ESTCOURT
explained, that the fees were all paid into the Consolidated Fund, and that all grants for other objects made to the Commissioners were made not as a matter of right but of honour.
§ MR. BOVILL
said, he understood that the fees were intended to discourage worthless inventions, and his own experience in these matters had taught him that the discoverers of really valuable inventions were thwarted and prevented from patenting them by the patentees of worthless inventions on the same subject having got the start of them.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question" put, and negatived; —Words added: — Main Question, as amended put, and agreed to — Second Reading put off for six mouths.