HC Deb 10 March 1880 vol 251 cc742-52

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he considered it exceedingly desirable, notwithstanding the short period which the Session had to last, to move the second reading of this Bill, because he thought it well to have certain views placed before the House now, as it was quite possible one might not have another opportunity of bringing these views forward. They were all going into the battle, and none knew what the result of that battle might be, regarding any one of them. The measure he proposed was most absolutely necessary for the well-being of the country. Their manufactures had been declining for some time. Other countries had been treading very fast upon their heels, and not only overtaking them, but in some cases passing before them. A great deal of this was owing to the much greater liberality shown in other countries to patentees, and the much greater freedom with which they could obtain protection for their discoveries. A cheap and liberal Patent Law would stimulate inventive genius in a way that they had hitherto failed to do. Every Session they had had Patent Law Amendment Bills before them. The Government had brought in a number of these. While they had been successively improved, the second being better than the first, and the third better than the second, they failed to grasp the difficulties of the position, and the real need of the manufacturers of the country to have a thoroughly liberal Patent Law. The provisions of all the Government Bills had treated inventors and patentees as persons who ought to be checked and kept in order, and who ought to get as little benefit as possible from their inventions. Not only had they kept up the charges for patents very much higher than they ought to be; but where they had attempted to reduce them, the reductions they proposed were altogether insufficient to put the Patent Law here on anything like the same basis that it was in other countries. He could give the rates at which patents were obtained in many other countries; but he would only trouble the House with the rates paid in those countries which were their immediate competitors, and which were damaging them most. In Germany, for instance, an inventor could get a patent for 80s. Three years afterwards he had to pay up to £16 10s.; after seven years, his payment would have reached £71 10s.; and at the end of 12 years he had paid £169 10s. This was the dearest of all the Patent Laws except their own. The House would observe, however, that the heavy cost was thrown on the later stages. The cost at the earlier stages was extremely small. In Belgium, which was one of their most pressing competitors, and was treading fast on their heels, an inventor could obtain a patent for 8s. At the end of three years he had to pay £4, at the end of seven years £14, and by the end of 12 years he would only have paid £36 8s. altogether. The United States was still more liberal. In America an inventor could get a patent for 35 dollars—that was, £7—and this was all he would have paid at the end of 12 years. In Great Britain, on the other hand, even were the proposals of the Government agreed to, £12 10s. would have to be paid by an inventor in the initial stage. At the end of the third year, before it was possible for anybody to get any benefit from it, another payment—no less than £50—had to be made. By the end of the seven years the unfortunate patentee, who had barely time to get anything out of his invention, would actually have expended in Government charges £162 10s.; and at the end of 12 years, even under the proposed Government reductions, he would have paid £262 10s. This operated most prejudicially on poor inventors. But, worse than that, the Government proposed to compel a man to publish all the particulars of his patent before he knew whether he would get a patent or not. There was nothing more likely than this to crush patentees, and to drive them out of the country. This proposal was in itself enough to condemn the last Government Bill, and had prevented it ever receiving any encouragement or favour in the House. A patentee incurred endless expense in experiments in testing everything, and in getting an invention before the public, so that it was absolutely impossible to pay high patent charges in the earlier stages. The Bill which he (Mr. Anderson) had introduced modified the charges very much, bringing down the initial charge of a patent to £10, which was still a great deal higher rate than was paid in America or Belgium. He proposed to abolish all further payment at the third year, and only at the end of the seventh to charge £25, and at the end of the fourteenth £50. But, in truth, patentees did not so much object to high charges in the later stages, but the abolition of the third year's payment and the reduction of the initial charges were imperative. Another proposal of the Bill was to remedy the bad management of the Patent Office. In place of unpaid Commissioners, who did not do the work, the Bill proposed that there should be three paid Commissioners. No unpaid work was likely to be well done. Many hon. Members, even of this House, probably because they were not paid for the work, went away and did not do it. In business, unpaid work was certainly bad work, and the Patent Office proved, this. The work was badly done, the Office was badly organized, and it would never be better until it was banded over to paid Commissioners. That, and the reduction of the fees for patents, and the extension of the duration of a patent from 14 to 21 years, were the reforms which were demanded by inventors. The Government had conceded the necessity of an extension of the time. He would not dwell further on that than to say that he thought the extension should apply equally to patents that were now running, so that a patent should not be cut off when it came to the end of the 14 years, by the fact that at the time it was got the law did not allow a further period. These were all the provisions of this Bill, and he hoped the House would give a second reading to it, in order to affirm the principle that the Law of Patents should be so modified that it would to the utmost stimulate the inventive genius of the country, so as to enable their manufacturing industry to keep its place, or regain what it had lost—for it had lost a good deal. To retrieve that place two things were wanted—the one a liberal Patent Law, so that they might have the benefit of the best possible machinery and appliances; and the other, proper technical education to their work-people, so that they might be able to bring the utmost skill to bear upon their manufactures. He hoped to see these two things secured by the House. This Bill, if adopted, would settle the question of patent legislation for a great many years to come. He begged to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Anderson.)


would not say that he objected to the Bill; but he contended that no good would result by reading it a second time, considering the present condition of the House. The subject was one which deserved a great deal more consideration and discussion than it could possibly receive now; and he thought it would be a great misfortune if the principle of the measure were supposed to be approved by Parliament. Under the circumstances, the Order ought to be discharged.


trusted the hon. Gentleman who had introduced the Bill would not press the second reading to a divi- sion. The matter was one of the greatest possible importance; and if it was to receive consideration at all, it ought to be at the hands of a fuller House than that which they had that day. He had read the hon. Gentleman's Bill with considerable care. In the first place, the hon. Member proposed to abolish the present Commissioners, and to substitute in their place paid Commissioners, one of whom would be appointed by the Lord Chancellor, and the rest by the Board of Trade. He (the Attorney General) had not heard that there had been any complaint as to the manner in which the present Commissioners of Patents had performed their duties. There might be complaint of the working of the present system, that too many patents were granted, that the fees were too high, and that inventive industry would be encouraged if they were lower; but he had not understood that there was any complaint as to the way in which the Commissioners performed their duties. The question had been under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government for some time, and there had been no reluctance shown on their part to improve the Patent Laws, if they could be improved. Session after Session a Bill had been introduced by the Government. There was one last Session, and he believed if it had been improved in the direction proposed by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson), it would have been an excellent Bill. It was not the fault of the Government that it had not been passed. There was other Business which the House thought of more importance, and, in the circumstances, it could not be got through. The Government had, how-over, come to the conclusion that it was not desirable to have paid Commissioners, and, therefore, it was impossible for him, as representing the Government, to accept the second reading of a Bill amongst whose provisions this proposal stood. The Bill went on to propose that Letters Patent should be granted for a period of 21 years. No doubt, there had been a proposition in the Government Bill to a similar effect; but, after mature consideration, he could not, without very considerable discussion, and without gathering the opinion of a full House of hon. Members thoroughly acquainted with this important subject, sanction any Bill which contained any such provision as this. Another provision of the Bill was that the stamp duties should be very considerably reduced. That was an alteration to which he could not consent without consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Whatever might be said for reductions being made in the fees in the earlier stages of patents, there was no doubt that, under the present system, patents were granted for all kinds of frivolous and ridiculous ideas. If hon. Gentlemen only saw the extraordinary applications which were made to the Law Officers of the Patent Office, they would be filled with wonder at the absurd notions which entered into the heads of people who called themselves inventors. For these reasons, he could not support the second reading of this Bill. He knew of nothing of more importance than that they should have a good system of Patent Law. It would be a great encouragement to invention, and the manufacturing interests of this country would reap from that an enormous benefit. But, just because of this, it seemed to him this was a subject which should be brought forward by the Government. The Government had shown the disposition to do this Session after Session, and it was not their fault if none of them had passed. There was a Bill which he had hoped to introduce this Session. The Session, it appeared, was about to come to a speedy termination, and, in certain respects, an unexpected termination. He should do his utmost, if the present Government was in power when Parliament again assembled, as in all probability they would be, to modify that Bill as far as possible in the desired direction, and, if it passed, he believed it would do much good.


said, he had listened to the remarks of the hon. and learned Attorney General with much satisfaction. He had objected to the Bill which was brought forward being proceeded with late at night. He also condemned the extension of the term to 21 years, as that period would tend to exclude manufacturers and others from the benefit of inventions. He thought it would be well to have some alteration in the machinery of the Office; but whether the Commissioners should be paid or not he would not give an opinion upon. He also thought that the fees in the earlier stages should be reduced. It certainly would be a great mistake to read the Bill a second time now, as it would create the erroneous impression that it was the deliberate opinion of the House. This House could not give a deliberate opinion on anything for the remainder of its life. If he was in the new Parliament, he would support the views on this question enunciated by the Attorney General.


said, he gave the Government credit for many good intentions, which, however, they had never given effect to. An endeavour had been made to throw the blame of that upon the House; but he held the House had a right to hold the Government responsible, when certain home questions were pressing for solution, for the non-fulfilment of their undertakings. He had no doubt that if the Government had brought in a Bill on the moderate lines indicated by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and dealing with the points to which he had so clearly called attention, then the Bill would have been fairly and fully considered. But there had been no disposition on the part of the Government to lay the Bill before the House. If they chose to bring such a Bill on late at night, they might succeed in passing it without discussion; but the House was entlitled to a full discussion, and could not accept any such Bill without it. He joined with the hon. and learned Gentleman in the hope that when the new Parliament assembled this question would be taken up and treated with the consideration it deserved; but, with all his admiration for the ability of the hon. and learned Gentleman, he could not hope that the Bill would be in his charge; but if that should be the case, he hoped that the undertaking given to-day would be followed by the introduction of a Patent Law giving general satisfaction.


thought no Bill would be satisfactory which did not take into account the recommendations of the Select Committee which reported on the question some few years ago. He thought power might be given to patentees to grant licences to other persons for the manufacture of their inventions.


said, that the subject was of the greatest importance, and as it was impossible that it could receive adequate discussion in the present condition of the House, he would move as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day month.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day month."—(Mr. Fraser-Mackintosh.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, that certain hon. Members had based their objections to the second reading of the Bill mainly on the state of the House and the impossibility of having a full discussion on anything. But if that objection applied to this Bill, it applied to every other; and he hoped the Government would take it into consideration, and would not bring forward any important Government Bills, and ask an attenuated House to read them. If they were not to discuss any more important Bills, they might as well go home to their constituencies at once. The moving of the second reading of this Bill had been useful, if only in getting the views of the Attorney General more distinctly stated than they ever were before. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had not heard any complaints about the Patent Office, he must have shut his ears. There was a prolonged discussion last year in the Society of Arts regarding the deficiencies of the Patent Office, where there was no sufficient register, and where there was a great want of proper organization. He had introduced this Bill, because the successive Bills of the Government had been bad Bills. No doubt, the hon. and learned Gentleman had made improvements upon every succeeding one; but they had never been satisfactory, because they looked upon inventors and patentees as malefactors, who must be looked after and checked. It was said that ridiculous things were patented. But if the fees were paid, this did no harm to anybody except the patentees themselves. The interest of inventors and the public were the same and that was that the inventive genius of the country should be stimulated to the utmost. The principles of this Bill were those which inventors agreed should be embraced in the Government Bill. He was much pleased with what the Attorney General had said about reducing the charges for patents in the initial stages. It was because the Government Bill had not proposed to reduce the charges at the initial stages that he had brought forward this Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman still proposed a considerable charge at the end of the third year; but this was most unfair, and never would be satisfactory, as an inventor could not by that time get much benefit from his invention. Inventors would not have the same objection to maintaining considerable charges at the later stages. There ought to be no charge of any magnitude prior to the seventh year, so that the inventor might have a chance of having some benefit from his patent before he was called on to pay a large amount on account of it. None of the Government Bills had dealt with inventors in a sufficiently liberal spirit. For this reason he had brought forward this Bill, but there was no hope of passing it at this period of the Session. Whether he would have opportunity to introduce it in any other, was a very uncertain thing. Ho was glad, however, that the Attorney General had shown a more liberal spirit in his speech than he had before, and there was some hope that when the Government Bill he promised in the next Session did come forward, it would be an improvement on all the preceding ones. If the hon. and learned Gentleman wanted it to be satisfactory, it must go in the direction of this Bill. He would not divide the House upon it, as in the then state of the House the division would be a most unsatisfactory one.


regretted that he had not the advantage of hearing the speech of the hon. and learned Attorney General; but he had no idea that the Bill would have come on so soon, as it stood low down in the Paper. He had, himself, tried in two Parliaments to pass a reasonable measure, and ho had served upon a Committee which had sat to consider the Patent question. That Committee made a most important Report as to the amendments required in the Patent Laws. Another Parliament was now about to be dissolved, and nothing whatever had been done with this Patent question. He believed that when the question came to be better understood, it would be found that there was no more important question affecting our manufacturing industry. He could answer for it himself that Englishmen had again and again, in the last 10 years, left this country with their inventions, solely because they had not the means to patent them here; and if they ven- tured to put them in the hands of a capitalist, they would leave themselves at his mercy. Why, last year he received a letter from a very able and a very superior man, who thanked him for the part he had taken in trying to amend the Patent Laws, and said—"I am going with my inventions to a country where I shall get protection at a reasonable price." He was going to America. He (Mr. Mundella) knew that since then that man had been very successful as an inventor. He sold one of his inventions, and with the proceeds he took out patents in the United States. In England the English workman was discouraged on all hands by the Patent Laws. When he (Mr. Mundella) was in active business himself, he was the proprietor of at least 20 patents, and in most of them he was associated with working men. He had paid a working man as much as £2,000 or £3,000 for his share of patents. One of the inventions practically revolutionized the business in which he was engaged. He, in conjunction with the senior Member for Bristol (Mr. S. Morley), paid several thousand pounds to a working man whom they took into partnership. He had seen scores of workmen who had been sacrificed and soured because they were unable to bring out their inventions to advantage, and they had, therefore, become practically a dead letter. What was wanted was a cheap and simple Patent Law, and it was an absolute necessity, if they were to maintain the superiority of the manufactures of this country. He believed that it was in very rare cases indeed that the manufacturer himself was an inventor. In all his experience in connection with one of the largest industries of the country, and one which had given the largest scope to the exercise of mechanical ingenuity, he had never known but two instances in which the manufacturer himself had been an inventor. In nearly every case it was the man who stood before the loom and who brought his brains to work upon the loom who had been the means of improving it, and to deny him a fair share of proprietary right in his own inventions was to deal very hardly with him. He had known instances where an inventor put his little invention in a box and ran across to France, where he could dispose of it, after securing a patent for it at a cost of £2. As a rule, a work- man generally spent the last of his hoard in perfecting his invention. He wanted a patent, and the cost of that patent was the first thing to entail a difficulty. He knew that it was hopeless to discuss these questions at that time of the day, at the end of an expiring Parliament. He had stood up in that House for the last 10 years urging the House to take the matter in hand, and he had seconded the Motion for the appointment of the original Committee that sat on the Patent Laws. He believed that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General had brought in four or five Bills of his own, and he was bound to say that every succeeding one was a little better than its predecessor. The first was as bad as it could be, but the second was a little better; and they improved as they went on. The hon. and learned Gentleman had now made a speech that was a little more liberal than anything that had preceded it; and if the hon. and learned Gentleman occupied his present position in May, although he (Mr. Mundella) hoped he would be disappointed in his expectations, he trusted the hon. and learned Gentleman would bring in a Patent Bill that would stimulate the inventiveness of the workmen of the country and give them an opportunity of protecting their inventions and bringing them before the public when they were perfected. By the permission of his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, he begged to move that the Order be discharged.


said, there was an Amendment already before the House, and it must be withdrawn before any other Amendment could be put.

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.