HC Deb 07 March 1871 vol 204 cc1512-34

, in moving for a Select Committee to inquire into the Law, practice, and effect of grants of Letters Patent for Inventions, said, he was induced to bring this subject before the House because, from an experience of more than 20 years, he was aware of the great evils attendant on the system of Patent Laws. He proposed a Committee of Inquiry in preference to asking leave to introduce a Bill, on account of the great diversity of opinion prevailing as to the best mode of dealing with the subject. The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Macfie), the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer), and other great authorities, were of opinion that the only mode of dealing with the Patent Laws was to sweep them away altogether. Others thought that by considerable alterations the system of patents might still be maintained; while there were those who maintained—and he confessed himself to be among the number—that the present laws, if administered in the spirit of their original promoters, would be sufficient, and that all that was required was to consider the spirit of the law and act upon it. To ascertain that spirit he might be permitted to refer to the Act of 23 James I., the primary object of which was to abolish monopolies, while at the same time it reserved those granted by the Crown in favour of new manufactures. The whole mischief of the Patent Laws had arisen from the interpretation given to the expression "new manufactures," which had been extended until they had been made to include any new invention whatever. He would not argue the question whether there was any inherent right in inventors to obtain patents; because he thought that patents should be granted on grounds of public utility. Inventors were frequently poor men, who were not in a condition to carry out their inventions without the assistance of capitalists, who, of course, if they advanced their money, expected to be recouped. Many very important inventions could never have been carried out without a system of protection. He would mention, in the case of two important inventions, the sums expended before any return was obtained. In reference to the self-acting mule, upwards of £30,000 were spent before a single farthing was returned to the capitalists; and upon Bessemer's improvements in the manufacture of steel £100,000 were expended by the patentee and his licensees, and seven years of the patent expired before any return was obtained. He might also mention—though it was not a case with which the Patent Laws were concerned—that the Ordnance experiments, exclusive of those which had reference to the Armstrong and Whitworth guns, cost the enormous sum of £250,000 in 10 years. This showed how hopeless it was to expect that experiments of that nature could be carried out by individuals without some protection of the results. There was, however, a great difference between the encouragement of new and important inventions and granting a patent to every frivolous matter which might be brought forward. It might be said of frivolous inventions that they would soon find their own level. He knew from experience that was not the case; and the practical effect of such patents was that they were a decided hindrance to the progress of manufactures, and there was this further evil—that in trades where great competition existed rival manufacturers took out one frivolous patent after another to protect themselves and injure their neighbours. He had in his own case to protect himself in matters in which, if any choice had been presented to him, he should have refrained from doing so. But there was another view to be taken of these small patents. In this country patents for small though not necessarily frivolous inventions were granted. But there were other countries which run us very close in manufacturing competition where they were not allowed. Consequently when our goods went into markets to which those other countries traded, our commerce was impeded by these small patents, to which our rivals were not subjected. There was another evil—patents were recklessly granted again and again, without any examination whatever, for the same inventions which had been before the public for, perhaps, 20 or 30 years. These became stumbling-blocks in the way of the progress of manufactures. The Crown granted a monopoly or privilege, and the individual aggrieved must come forward and at great expense undo what the Crown never ought to have done. If matters remained as they were, abolition, he was convinced, must come, and that he did not think desirable. They must alter the law and change the mode in which it was administered. The first thing done by the change in the law effected by the Act of 1852 was to cheapen patents. To that he had no objection; but it pre-supposed that patents should only be granted where there was really an invention and one of some importance. The intention of Lord Colchester, who introduced the law into the House of Lords in 1851 was that precautions should be taken. Examiners were to be appointed to ascertain two points—whether inventions were sufficiently described and whether they were new; but that clause in the Bill was struck out after it left the other House. Words, however, were inserted to give the Commissioners power to appoint other Commissioners, who, it was presumed, would be scientific men and would perform the duty of examiners; but from 1852 learned societies and inventors had been soliciting the appointment of those additional Commissioners down to 1868, when the Master of the Rolls offered to make three appointments, with this extraordinary condition annexed—that the persons so appointed should have no remuneration. Now, that might be very well if the whole business of the Patent Office were carried on gratuitously. But was that the case? Why, in 1869 the Law Officers of the Crown received, in respect of patents, no less a sum than £10,100; while their clerks received £946. He hoped the Attorney General would explain what were the duties for the performance of which these large sums were received. The Law Officers of Scotland and Ireland received compensation to the amount of £2,850 per annum; while their clerks received £600. There was a strong party, both in and out of that House, who maintained that there would be no remedy for the abuses of patent legislation except the abolition of patents. Now, he was not of that opinion; but he thought it would still be useful that this view of the subject should be fully considered by the Committee. That was the opinion of the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Macfie), who would probably second this Motion, and it was the only point in connection with this subject in which he agreed with him. For his own part, he believed that all that was required to be done could be accomplished by better administration of the present law with probably some slight changes. If the Patent Laws were to be maintained, it was necessary that there should be, in the first place, an examination to ascertain that the invention was new, that it was sufficiently described, and that it was useful. The present law was, on the whole, sufficient to protect all interests if administered in the spirit of those who brought in the Bill, if not of those who passed it into law. With regard to the expense and uncertainty of patent litigation, he felt that it would be difficult to provide any specific remedy for it. It was a difficulty not confined to patents, but inherent in all contentions affecting technical subjects. Hence, whilst he was quite willing that an attempt should be made to render patent litigation easier, or to improve it, he would rather rely on a diminution of the subjects of contention. Patents should not be needlessly multiplied, nor given for processes which, were never intended originally to be made the subjects of patents. Without detaining the House longer, he would conclude by moving the appointment of a Select Committee.


, in seconding the Motion, said, that the House would, no doubt, remember that two years ago he had had the honour of bringing the question of patents under the notice of the House, and at that time entered so fully into the subject that it was not necessary for him now to go over the whole matter. He was glad to think that there was a greater amount of unity in judgment as to patents and the operation of the present law between himself and the hon. Member (Mr. Samuel-son) than he had anticipated. Both desired that what was just should be done, and that what was the truth should be ascertained. But they went further together, for the hon. Gentleman said that if the Parliament of this country were to make certain the proper administration of the law, there would be no necessity for an agitation for the abolition of patents. In that opinion he (Mr. Macfie) almost entirely coincided. A great change had taken place with regard to the administration of the Law of Patents, and especially as regarded the interpretation of the Statute of Monopolies. Originally it was provided that patents should not be given where they were hurtful to trade; but as patents were now administered, they were in a great many instances not only hurtful to trade, but to the general community. Then formerly it was held that mere processes of manufacture and additions to inventions could not be made the subject of patents; patents were only granted to the true inventor; whereas now they were granted to the assignee or the importer of foreign inventions. As much as £200,000 was at this moment asked by a foreign inventor for the right to vend his invention merely in this country. No doubt there was a great difference between the present state of matters and that which existed in the reign of James I., when the Statute of Monopolies was passed. Trade at that time was only carried on on a small scale, and if a patent was granted it was obviously for something of advantage to the public, and if it was used it was seen that it did not interfere with any existing interest. At present, however, the reverse was the case. Let them look at the increase in the number of patents which had taken place of late years. It would be seen from a Return, for which he moved two years ago, that in 1700 there were only 2 patents granted in England; that in 1750 there were only 7; and in 1800 only 96. From that year, however, the number went on increasing, till in 1855 250 patents were granted; in 1860, 523; and he had learned from the Patent Office that for last year the number amounted to no less than 2,491. The increase was much more marked in Scotland and Ireland, because in these countries there were fewer patents granted in the olden times. Thus a vast number of monopolies had been created. He contended that the patent system was unquestionably a great obstacle in the way of our manufactures. He held in his hand the specification of a patent in connection with frills, which had lately attracted notice, and it had recently been decided to be law that where any article has been manufactured on a system patented in this country, or if any part of an article is such, the article could not be sold in this country. For instance, in the case of Betts' capsules, if it had been proved that bottles had been capped by capsules made in conflict with the patent abroad, the articles contained in the bottles could not be sold. His hon. Friend (Mr. Samuelson) had spoken of the many obstacles encountered by a manufacturer from the working of the present Act. In confirmation of that he (Mr. Macfie) need only appeal to the evidence of such men as Sir William Armstrong and Mr. Scott Russell. In the memoirs of Brunei they would find the opinion of that eminent engineer recorded against the Patent Laws. He considered them the great curse of the day, both to the inventors and to the public, and argued that they should be done away with, for the more competition there was the better was it for the public. It was very interesting to observe how the views of men of eminence had become modified and enlarged in reference to this question. He would point to Earl Granville, who was Chairman of the Committee of the House of Lords in 1851 on the Patent Laws, and is strongly against them. His Lordship, in his Report, said— The last witness was the Master of the Rolls, who, notwithstanding the experience he had had as one of the Law Officers of the Crown, was decidedly of opinion that the Patent Laws were bad in principle, and no advantage either to the public or to the inventors. All the evidence brought before the Committee—both by those who opposed the Patent Laws and those who were in favour of them—had tended to confirm Earl Granville's opinion that the Patent Laws were indefensible, not useful to inventors, and disadvantageous to the public. In the Reports by the International Jury on the French Exhibition, hon. Members would find a very long and well-reasoned article, in which the most eminent authorities of France declared themselves against the patent system. Mr. Cobden was decidedly opposed to Patent Laws. ["No!"] Well, he had in his hand a transcript from a letter written in 1862, in which Mr. Cobden declared that he had a growing doubt as to the value and justice of the system, whether as regarded the interests of the public or of the inventors. The Earl of Derby, when Lord Stanley, declared in the House of Commons that the Patent Laws did more harm than good, and if called on to say "aye" or "nay" for their continuance, he would say "nay;" but that as the question was one that required careful handling he thought it had better be left in the hands of the Government. In Belgium the feeling was most decidedly against patents. In Germany Count Bismarck had also declared against them, and in Holland patents had been completely abolished. Some might say—Cross the Atlantic, and see that model country, the United States. Well, he (Mr. Macfie) did not quite think that America was a model country—it was a highly protectionist country, and behind the age. But, at the same time, he was glad to see that there was a change of opinion going on, and that the question of the policy of patents was being agitated there, and free-trade principles were beginning to occupy the minds of the people. In England the larger Chambers of Commerce had petitioned the House in favour of an inquiry into the policy of the existence of patents. Liverpool, Newcastle, and Edinburgh had asked the House to go to the root of the matter—that was not to the amendment of the law, but to ascertain whether such a law as this ought to exist at all. From a private letter which he had received from a patent agent, he was told that the reason why Holland abolished patents was that it wished to get an advantage over Belgium. Well, what was good for Holland was certainly good for England; and if Holland was encumbered in the race of commerce and manufactures by the existence of patents, how much more so must be a great country like England. If it was a just principle for Holland to abolish patents, he could not but come to the conclusion that it would be a just thing for England to follow its example. In Prussia there were only 103 patents in a year, while in this country the number was 2,500. Nature intended that men should be mutual benefactors; but the Patent Laws contravened this great principle and induced men of science to conceal their knowledge instead of using it for the advantage of mankind. A licence or royalty was a much worse tax upon industry than an ordinary tax, for whereas the latter was fixed and certain the former was arbitrary and uncertain. Patents, in reality, constituted that property which would not be property without them; but he believed that other incentives might be found to stimulate men to benefit their fellows by means of their inventions. Most manufacturers were inventors, but very few became patentees. The professed inventors were very few, and it was for their benefit that the Patent Laws were maintained. He knew that many working men had been inventors and had taken out patents—perhaps one patent out of five was taken by a working man. The trouble and time which was required to bring an invention into notice was generally more than it was worth—to say nothing how men's minds were distracted, and drawn away from their proper occupations. But were they, for the sake of benefit to perhaps 500 of these deserving persons, to inflict injury on 20,000,000 or 30,000,000? On the other hand, a foreign manufacturer might defy our Patent Laws, or a foreign inventor might license his own countrymen or grant licences in Belgium or Holland, while he withheld them from our manufacturers. If licences were permitted at all they should be made compulsory. The effect of these restrictions was to diminish competition and so to restrict employment; and, on the other hand, to raise prices so as to diminish consumers. His argument was this—that if the nation got the use of inventions without granting patent rights the price would be considerably lower; and that these rights should not be granted, because there were better means of obtaining the knowledge of use of new inventions. He was free to admit that much might be said for well-constituted Patent Laws; but the real question was whether something better still might not be devised. In other words, the question was whether we should not have a system of money rewards for inventors? Another matter for consideration was whether by international negotiation we might not get rid of the injustice to manufacturers in a country where a patent existed when there was no such patent in other countries. It was this country that had led the way in instituting these monopolies called patents; and he trusted that this country would also lead the way to free trade in such matters without, at the same time, doing any injustice to inventors.


said, he rose at that period of the debate because, without going into the merits of the Patent Laws, it might be convenient for him to state the course which the Government proposed to adopt. Last year and the year before, when asked their views as to the appointment of a Committee, proposed by the hon. Member for Leith Burgh (Mr. Macfie), the answer of the right hon. Gentleman then President of the Board of Trade and of the Prime Minister was that the Government would be ready to agree to it. The Government had not changed their opinion. It seemed to them that the position of the question was such that it would be very unwise to discourage further inquiry. The Patent Laws were sure not to be left untouched; there was certain to be legislation, or attempts at legislation, with respect to them; indeed, the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Hinde Palmer) had given notice of his intention that very evening to move for leave to bring in a Bill on the subject. On the other hand, it was evident that the question was not ripe for effective legislation without further inquiry. There had been no Committee of the House of Commons on the question since 1864, and the Commission which reported a few years ago had by no means exhausted the subject. He hoped, therefore, the representatives of the various opinions entertained on the question would think it advisable that this inquiry should be held, and that the appointment of the Committee would conduce to the settlement of this long-vexed question.


said, that though not prepared to object to the appointment of a Committee, he was not very sanguine of any beneficial results. We had had inquiries before, and if the state of the Patent Laws was so unsatisfactory as had been described, he saw nothing for it but total abolition. As to what had been said by the Mover of the Committee, that patents should be granted only when three conditions should be fulfilled—namely, that there should be novelty, a sufficient description, and utility—what tribunal could be established to determine things which were matters of opinion? How could any body of men properly determine the question of utility? Then an invention which was not useful now might at a future time, and under other conditions, become useful. The question of utility really must be one of opinion merely, and yet it was to be absolutely decided before a patent could be granted. The number of applications for extension of the 14 years showed that many patents only came into use so closely as not to pay the patentees during the 14 years, and his experience in past time led him to the conclusion that a patent-right was little more valuable to a manufacturer than a trade mark which was now protected.


said, that our Patent Laws were probably in a more anomalous state than those of any other country, and might be a very proper subject for inquiry. At the same time, he did not see what was to be gained by it. He was convinced the proposed Committee would furnish them with no more information on this subject than they had already received from the Committee of the House of Lords and the Royal Commission which reported in 1864; and there had been various inquiries outside Parliament. He thought, therefore, that the whole subject of the Patent Laws was ripe for legislation. There was no doubt in the country in what direction that legislation should proceed. The evil was a crying and notorious one, and what was wanted was courage on the part of the Law Advisers of the Crown to apply a remedy. His hon. Friend (Mr. Macfie) had cited the case of Switzerland. It was true that Switzerland had refused to establish a Patent Law, and in Holland it had been abolished. But why? There was not a ton of coal or iron in all Switzerland, and she could not construct a machine there. Every machine which the people of Switzerland required had to be imported from a foreign country. Under these circumstances, it was not to be wondered at that she should be willing to steal from France, Germany, and Italy whatever she could to aggrandize her own manufacturing districts. But who ever heard of the artizans of this country going to Switzerland or Holland for employment? He believed the American Patent Law was superior to any which existed in any other country. The cost of a patent to an American inventor, which was guaranteed to him for 17 years, was 35 dollars; while the cost of a patent to an English inventor for 14 years was 875 dollars. That was the first great secret of the defect in our Patent Laws; for he agreed with the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson) that the greater proportion of the inventors in this country were working men; but no working man could pay the enormous cost of a patent, and he was obliged, therefore, to associate himself with the capitalist, who too often made the bargain on terms not of equality or of mutuality. His hon. Friend had referred to the insignificant inventions for which patents were granted in this country—or even for slight improvements on existing inventions. It was said that the Attorney General examined into the matter before he sanctioned the grant of a patent; but he (Mr. Mundella) would engage that if 10 men applied in different terms for a patent for really the same thing, they would all get it. In America, on the other hand, there was a real previous inquiry, as was shown by the fact that last year the Commissioners refused 5,285 applications for patents, this being about 28 per cent of the whole number applied for. So real was the examination, that of 13,000 patents granted about 12,500 were refused in the first instance, and were only granted upon material modifications being made in the specifications. He agreed that there should be reform in the Patent Laws; but he thought that the greatest blow they could inflict on English industry would be to destroy property in inventions. He hoped that the Government would take care that every shade of opinion should be represented upon the Committee. The condemnation of monopolies ought not to extend to patents by which an inventor was allowed to enjoy for a limited period the exclusive use of his own invention. Were they going to deny to the inventors, who for years had devoted themselves to the perfection of machinery, that they had a right of property in that which they had produced? He could point to hundreds of poor men who had risen to affluence through the property they enjoyed in their inventions. Sir David Brewster once said—"If you once open this question you will find that there are other questions opened at the same time;" and there were other rights created by the law besides patent rights. They ought not to go into the inquiry pledged to any particular view of the question, and when the Committee reported, legislation ought immediately to follow.


wished to say a few words in excuse of the system of granting patents for inventions, which he would separate altogether from the Patent Laws. The opponents of the system seemed to take this position, that the law was such a hopeless deformity on the statute book that no amendment could make it any longer tolerable, and this appeared to be the conclusion of the Commission which sat in 1864, which, he agreed with the President of the Board of Trade, seemed not to go into the root of the matter, but to make certain recommendations of a palliative nature, and to conclude, as if in despair, with an indirect condemnation of the system. So, again, the Law Officers of the Crown—if they followed one of the most eminent of them the hon. Member for Richmond—seemed desirous of getting rid, at a very considerable sacrifice of income, of what they could not but consider an abuse. He hoped the Committee would not deem themselves so much bound by this weight of authority as not to take an independent course; but that they would weigh well the advantages of the present system, and the possibility of amending the laws which regulate it, before they decided to sweep it away altogether. We were too apt in this country to swing like the pendulum from one extreme of opinion to the other, and the British public, feeling the evils of the present practice of taking out patents for every conceivable thing, from a telegraph or steam-engine to the collar of a shirt or the button of a glove—feeling the mischief of trivial, useless, and fraudulent inventions, so called, were just now in a humour to make a clean sweep of the whole system. He could not see the distinction, on principle, between copyrights and patents for inventions, though he admitted that the inconvenience they might occasion to the public might be great in one case, and scarcely appreciable in the other. He could see no reason, on principle, for refusing protection in one case more than in the other, unless we were prepared to say that the owner of any kind of property ought to surrender it to the public, when the public fancied it, without compensation. It should be remembered that the proprietor in this case could protect himself by keeping his invention secret. Who could say that many of the arts which were now lost might not have been preserved if there had been rewards to inventors for communicating their discoveries in earlier days? Might not the everburning lamps of the Rosicrucians; the old art of painting on glass; the artists' colours of Flanders and Tuscany, as vivid now as they were 500 years ago, have become the common property of the world? His impression was that at the root of all the mischief of the present Patent Laws lay the want of a proper tribunal, the members of which, combining legal and special knowledge, should refuse patents which ought to be refused, and, if they did not constitute the Court before whom disputed cases were tried, should act as assessors to the Judge who tried them. He could hardly imagine a system more calculated to enhance the evils complained of than one which, admitting almost every claim, left the opposition to interested individuals, and committed delicate and difficult questions to a jury hopelessly puzzled by counsel. No one could deny the hardship to manufacturers of having to buy up a mass of obstructive patents of modifications of machinery which would naturally occur to those engaged in working it, and of patents which, like bubble companies, were only meant to be bought off. We knew how long the best sewing machine was excluded from this country, and annoyance and obstruction had arisen from patents for various modes of making sugar, the principle of which had long been known and acted upon in the Colonies. He was most desirous to stop this levying of black mail, which might be done by better previous examination and a more competent Court for the decision of cases. He could not, however, reconcile it to himself to take away from the poor inventor what was so often his only possession, and to which he was as fully entitled as the manufacturer to his trade mark, without at least trying the experiment whether a tribunal could not be constituted which would be able to confine the granting of patents to cases of great ingenuity and merit and great public utility. Such a tribunal would cost the country nothing; there need only be a transfer of those fees now paid to the Law Officers, besides which, there was a surplus fund of from £40,000 to £60,000 a-year now paid into the Ex- chequer. He had no great faith in Government rewards to inventors. However carefully dispensed, they would give rise, as selection of another kind probably would, to great dissatisfaction. The Committee should bear in mind two things—first, that an attempt to amend the Patent Laws, even if it failed, would only cause a brief delay, after which a proposal for their abolition would command, in a much greater degree, the public assent than if forced on at the present moment; and, secondly, that the system of granting patents, if not the cause of, was at any rate contemporaneous with, greater activity and fertility of invention, and that in the most useful and important directions, than had been recorded at any former period of the history of the world.


thought that an investigation of the point would reveal the fact that, on the whole, inventors were losers by their inventions, and this was a point which required very careful looking to, and if inventors gained nothing while the public lost, our system of patents was a failure. He would much like to see the inventors protected in their inventions if this could be done without disadvantage to the public; but he confessed that his doubts as to this being possible were, as in Mr. Cobden's case, "continually growing." The effect of patents, as a general rule, was to embarrass the true inventor, and to give—not a great, but still to some extent—an advantage to an unfair inventor; for whenever an invention was patented which attracted public notice a number of persons made it their business to apply for patents so worded as to interfere seriously with the results which the inventor might have obtained and be working out. If some plan could be devised for preventing the grant of patents to adventurers of this sort, and which were generally known as "fishing patents," which blocked the way of the true inventor, and were only applied for that they might be bought out of the way, and if at the same time you could insure some reward to the real inventor, there would be much to be said for the patent system; otherwise patents would be much better abolished altogether. In any revision of the present Patent Laws, he thought it indispensable to require the full and complete specifications to be lodged at the time of applying for the patent, and thus do away with all limit of time for complete and subsequent specification as now, and again it would be most important to revise and restrict the subjects of patent, and not allow a trifling variation in combination of old and well-known appliances to be patentable. Some such changes as these might work advantageously. He was, however, quite opposed to a special tribunal, sitting in judgment, on the novelty and usefulness of the patent applied for. That must be left wholly to the care and responsibility of the patentee.


said, he quite agreed that this Committee should be appointed without any foregone conclusion. It should be free to inquire into the great question whether or not patents should be altogether abolished—a point which was not referred to the Commission of 1864—and, if not, what alteration and improvement could be made in the law? He would not disguise from the House that he very much concurred in the concluding paragraph of the Report referred to—that some of the evils complained of were inherent in the nature of the Patent Laws, and must be considered as the price which the public paid for their use. But, at the same time, he thought that the evils of the Patent Laws were very much exaggerated by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Macfie); and he would call the hon. Member as a witness against himself. The hon. Member was asked whether he had personally experienced any inconvenience from the 400 patents that existed in his own trade? and he replied—"Not in the smallest degree." Therefore, he (the Attorney General) could not help thinking that the views that had been expressed on that part of the subject were much exaggerated. No doubt manufacturers had an objection to new inventions, because they found it inconvenient when machinery, that had cost them much money, became out of date, and had to be replaced by newer inventions; but, on the whole, he must say—though he did not wish to prejudge the question—that his impression was against the abolition of the Patent Laws. The object of those laws was the benefit of the public. What were the advantages supposed to be conferred by them? Their purpose was to encourage men to invent, and to publish their inventions. Suppose there were no Patent Laws, what would be the consequences? Let the House remember that there were three classes of inventors—the purely scientific men, who made discoveries from the love of truth, and were quite willing to throw them open to the world; the manufacturers who invented for their own benefit, and took uncommonly good care to keep their inventions secret; and a third class, which the Patent Laws had called into existence—namely, professional inventors, whose avowed business was to gain by their discoveries, and who naturally not only published the results of their efforts, but made very vigorous attempts to overcome obstacles to their general adoption. This class were the creatures of the Patent Laws, and he believed they owed the greater part of their most valuable inventions to them. It seemed to him that it would be a strong and unwise course to destroy those laws, and with them to destroy the class. What were the objections to the Patent Laws? That their influence had been too great—that they had produced a surfeit of inventions, good, bad, and indifferent. On the same ground a farmer might complain that his manure had been too vigorous in its operation—that in the heavy crop of corn there were so many weeds. Well, the weeds were there no doubt; but could he have had the wheat without them? His opinion was that the inconveniences occasioned by bad and useless and obstructive inventions were more than counterbalanced by the good wrought by the useful ones. But if the Patent Laws were to remain, their mode of operation was susceptible of great improvement. The tribunal for the trial of patent cases might be amended by abolishing the jury and substituting scientific assessors. It was a further question, whether it would or would not be well to establish a special tribunal for the trial of patent cases? The process of repealing patents might be facilitated and cheapened. There was another point that had not yet been touched upon. As the law now stood the provisional specifications alone were liable to supervision. As soon as the inventor had filed them it was the duty of the Law Officers to see that they clearly and fully described the nature of the invention. If satisfied on that point the patent was granted, and the inventor could afterwards file any complete specification he pleased, without any control or supervision whatever. Now, it seemed to him that the filing the complete specification, fully and clearly describing the nature of the invention, should be a condition precedent to the granting of the patent, and not subsequent to it. Indeed, he was disposed to think that by doing away with the provisional specification altogether they would get rid of half the useless inventions now patented. There was another question in reference to the nature of the preliminary investigation prior to granting the patent. It was confined, in ordinary cases and in the absence of opposition, to seeing that the provisional specifications clearly described one invention, and only one; but those persons were in error who thought that the task was an easy one. He and his learned Friend the Solicitor General had each a clerk exclusively employed in the work, who reported to them. It sometimes happened that specifications were sent back again and again for correction. His duty involved him in an extensive correspondence with inventors, which was not always of the most agreeable kind, for when they insisted in putting forward inaccurate specifications he always refused to pass them. If they did not describe in his opinion a real invention, he took it on himself to refuse the patent—he had done it very often. Again, persons often tried to crowd half-a-dozen things in one specification—a practice that had to be vigilantly repressed. Frequent attempts were also made to conceal the nature of the patent by the title; but he considered it to be absolutely necessary that the title should give due notice of the nature of the specification, and he always took care that that was done; otherwise persons who might desire to oppose the invention, on the ground that it was not a really original one, would be at a serious disadvantage. An important question arose, however—whether the examination should not be carried further, and comprise, in every case, an inquiry as to the novelty and utility of the invention? A different tribunal would be requisite if that were done; but if the examination was not to be extended beyond its present limits, he thought that the existing tribunal was sufficient. The hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) had described the working of the system in America. It was, however, right that the House should be in possession of the other side of the picture—because it was not true that England in this matter had much to learn from the Americans, or that the preliminary inquiry was of any advantage. With reference to preliminary examinations by the Court, he could not do better than cite the testimony of Mr. Carpmael, who said— If such were the practice" (preliminary examination) "there would be many cases of trades and individuals in trades constantly opposing, so that none but a rich inventor could ever hope to get a patent against such a phalanx of opposition. And in answer to the question, Would there be any disadvantages arising from it?" he said, "I should say that it was all disadvantage, and no possible benefit. He might also call attention to what had been said by Mr. Woodcrift, at the head of the Patent Office, who said— The Americans pay about £23,000 a-year for preliminary examination, and they are very much dissatisfied with it. He added— The system of preliminary examination has been tried and found wanting. It is in operation in Prussia, but does not give satisfaction. It was tried in France, Austria, Sardinia, and Belgium; but, being most unsatisfactory, was abandoned in each country. It is now going on in America at an enormous expense, and the Chief Commissioner wrote to me to say that it was a very inadequate system, and a very unfair one. He would also read an extract from The New York Tribune, which appeared in The Scientific American, December 3, 1870, as follows:— The New York Tribune, in a recent editorial referring to patents and inventions, says our Patent Laws seem to need an amendment which will assimilate them in an important respect to the British. The Patent Office here, as there, should simply register claims to have made inventions or discoveries in their order, without undertaking to pronounce upon their novelty or value, and all questions thence arising should be taken directly to the Courts, and there settled. This is the British rule on the subject, and it is much better than ours. Let the inventor make what claims he will, and let the Court determine their validity. Our laws give the Commissioner and his examiners entirely too much power—power which the best functionaries might abuse through defect of information or error in judgment; which the worse certainly do and will use most unrighteously. He had called attention to these extracts in order that there might be no foregone conclusion in favour of this inquiry. It was just as well it should not be supposed that the arguments were entirely on one side. Of course, they all agreed that it was extremely desirable that the Committee should represent both sides and different opinions of the House. He trusted the inquiry would be comprehensive and satisfactory, and that it would furnish very valuable data for legislation.


, who had given Notice of Motion for leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Law relating to Patents for Inventions, said, that the Bill of which he had given Notice had been prepared by the light of the information derived from the previous investigations that had been held into the subject of the Patent Laws; and his opinion was that if his Bill, after being read the second time, was referred to a Select Committee, or went into Committee in the ordinary course, it might easily be made amply sufficient to meet all the objections now urged against the Patent Laws and their administration. What he desired to see was their amendment, not their abolition. When he reflected that the greatness of England was so eminently attributable to her manufacturing genius, which depended so much on her improved machinery, and that the improvements in her machinery were coeval with the existence of the Patent Laws, he felt that they ought not lightly to be abolished. The Attorney General had already refuted his hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Macfie) out of his own mouth; but he had omitted to state that the hon. Member had solicited the opinion of a number of leading manufacturers on the question of useless and obstructive inventions, and they had declared that little or no inconvenience had been occasioned by them. In a former debate, the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) cited, among the authorities in favour of the abolition of the patent right, the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Platt). But that hon. Gentleman, in presiding, in January, 1870, at a meeting of the Manchester Institute of Engineers, had said that, though there were defects in the Patent Laws, there was no reason why they should not be amended, instead of being abolished. Again, while the Royal Commissioners said there were inherent objections in the system, which they did not see could well be got rid of, yet they did not go so far as to recommend abolition; which Sir William Fairbairn, one of their number, and than whom there could be no better authority, thought would be ruinous to the industrial prosperity and inventive talent of the country. Although he signed that Report, it was with the qualification that, in his opinion, it was essential to the wants of the community and to the progress of practical science that the laws should be maintained. While his hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Macfie) was anxious for a Committee, with the view of reporting in favour of abolition, he (Mr. Hinde Palmer) hoped the Committee would not be of such a complexion as would indicate a foregone conclusion. The working men, from whom had sprung many of the grandest inventions which had enriched and improved this country, were mainly interested in the question. A meeting of skilled artizans had recently been held in Aldersgate Street, presided over by the hon. and learned Member for Richmond, the hon. Member for Leith being present, and both of them advocating abolition. Mr. Galloway, of Newcastle, was to have proposed that the Patent Laws were a hindrance to genius, science, and progress; but, after the discussion, Mr. Galloway moved that protection was absolutely necessary by which the inventor should be secured a legitimate right in his inventions—a resolution which was carried almost unanimously, only two hands having been held up against it. That, he (Mr. Hinde Palmer) believed, was the opinion of the working classes throughout the country, the vast majority of whom were against abolition. Then Mr. Stuart Mill, in his well-known work on Political Economy, had expressed his opinion to the effect that— It would be a gross immorality in the law to set everybody free to use a person's work, without his consent and without giving him an equivalent, because it would be practically making the men of brains still more than at present the needy retainers and dependents of the men of money-bags. But the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) himself was of opinion in 1851 that it was as complete a fallacy as was ever uttered to say that the grant of a patent was a concession of monopoly, and he said that patents should be dealt with the same as copyright, to which they were analogous. The Bill which he (Mr. Hinde Palmer) had prepared would grapple with the present defects in the Patent Laws, and if the Committee were granted it would supersede the progress of the measure. He should, nevertheless, persevere with it. The Bill, indeed, might be referred to that Committee, who might find it a very useful foundation for the amendment of the laws. It had not been drawn with the view of providing the substitute which was a favourite idea of the hon. Member for Leith, who thought inventors might be rewarded by the State, instead of being granted patents. That was, in his (Mr. Hinde Palmer's) opinion, an utter fallacy, as shown by the present Earl of Derby, the Chairman of the Patent Law Commission, who, at the British Association in Manchester in 1861, pointed out that no tribunal could be found satisfactorily to decide the claims of inventors, some being rewarded too highly, and vice versâ; while the value and merit of other inventions might not be recognized till after the death of their authors. The Prime Minister himself, too, last July had said that such a system, besides being a heavy demand upon the public purse, would lead to universal confusion. If the House adopted improvements in the existing laws it would, meet, he (Mr. Hinde Palmer) was sure, all the objections on which the abolitionists relied. Instead of continuing the preliminary investigation in the hands of the Law Officers of the Crown, his Bill would entrust that duty to three special Commissioners, as was done so successfully in America—


said, the hon. Member was not in Order in entering into a detailed description of a Bill which was not yet before the House, and which was on the Paper for a later hour. The hon. Member's remarks should be reserved for his Motion.


resuming, expressed his hope that, in the interests of commerce and manufacture, as well as skilled artizans, the House would pause before it did anything to sanction the total abolition of patent rights, and thereby deny all protection to inventive genius.


, as a patentee and user of patent inventions, avowed himself in favour of the Patent Laws, and that all objections would disappear if a proper preliminary examination were instituted. It was quite notorious that patents were often granted, embodying improvements similar to those already patented; and it was almost impossible for the Law Officers, in regard to matters of a technical character, to find out the distinctions from the language of the specifications. Owing to her patent system, England was now the test market for inventions, so that English manufacturers were often in possession of important improvements many years before those of any other country. That was a great advantage. He believed it was in the interest of the public that patents should be retained, believing that their tendency was to reduce the cost of manufacture. Many parties engaged in the manufacture of patented articles were strangers to the invention—as for example, Mr. Bessemer, in his invention in regard to steel, had never any connection with the manufacture of steel, and without the security of the Patent Laws the probability was that we should never have heard of that invention — at least for many more years to come. It did not follow that by the abolition of patents they would abolish secresy. He knew a gentleman who had an invention which he kept to himself for 25 years, and this monopoly he would perhaps retain for another 25 years. But under the Patent Laws an invention was certain to become the property of the public after a certain limited time. He maintained then that, with a proper discrimination, the granting of patents was a benefit to the public. What was called a combination patent in a mechanical sense was one of the most dangerous that could be granted. In such cases the parties never disclosed the parts which were new until perhaps in the course of some trial, at a ruinous cost to a manufacturer; and, indeed, it was possible, even in the course of the trial, that the combination might be changed. To prevent such an abuse, the parts in the specifications which were claimed as new should be coloured to distinguish them; and he agreed also that it would be well to do away with provisional specifications, and insist on complete specifications at the time the patent was granted. As to the trials of patent causes, these were almost mockeries. It was next to impossible that the Judges should understand the technical questions that came before them without the help of experts; but if experts sat with, them, no other alteration in the tribunal would be necessary.


, in reply, said, he would give every assistance to make the Committee perfectly impartial.

Resolution agreed, to.

Select Committee appointed, "to inquire into the Law and practice and the effect of grants of Letters Patent for Inventions."—(Mr. Samuelson.)

And, on March 16, Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL, Mr. GORDON, Mr. ARTHUR PEEL, Mr. GEORGE GREGORY, Mr. HINDE PALMER, Mr. STEWART HARDY, Mr. MACFIE, Mr. CAWLEY, Mr. PLATT, Mr. HICK, Mr. MUNDELLA, Mr. MELLOR, Mr. JAMES HOWARD, Mr. ELLIOT, Captain BEAUMONT, Mr. JOSHUA FIELDEN, Mr. DILLWYN, Mr. ORR EWING, Mr. PIM, Mr. LAIRD, and Mr. SAMUELSON:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Seven to be the quorum.

And, on March 17, Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, Mr. LOPES, Mr. ANDREW JOHNSTON, Colonel WILMOT added.