HC Deb 20 January 1942 vol 377 cc302-5

Order for Second Reading read.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Captain Waterhouse)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill is a short Measure to amend the Patents and Designs Acts, 1907 to 1939. I submit it to the House as being a Measure as simple in its form as it is possible to produce in any legislation dealing with so complicated a subject. It amends the Acts in three specific directions, each one of them necessitated by war conditions. Clause 1 deals with the extension of the term of patents. A patent is normally granted for 16 years. The courts have power in certain cases to give an extension beyond that period on certain conditions. One of those conditions, which is set out in Sub-section (6) of Section 18 of the Patents and Designs Act is that the patentee has suffered loss or damage by reason of a war in which this country is engaged. Under the existing law an application for such an extension must be made before the patent has expired, but it may well be that the patentee has been prevented by military service or by some other cause connected with the war which is quite beyond his control from applying for an extension within the proper time. In this Clause, the courts have power to grant the extension on an application which would otherwise have been out of date.

Again, under the existing law it is possible for only one extension to be granted by the courts. We now propose to allow the courts to give a further extension in order to meet cases where, owing to war conditions, the patentee has not been able to reap the benefits he had a right to expect under his extension. At present the courts may not grant an extension for more than five, or in exceptional circumstances, 10 years, and as I have said, they may grant only one such extension. This Clause enables the courts to grant an extension up to 10 years for war losses alone.

While Clause 1 has given fresh rights to the patentee, Clause 2 gives fresh rights to the Government. It deals with the use of patents and designs by Government Departments. Under Section 29 and Section 58A of the principal Act, the Government may use a patent or design on agreed terms. Failing agreement, the court may decide the terms on which the patent is to be used. But the Act gives Government Departments the power to sell any patented article only when that article is no longer of service to the State. During the war, some Government Departments, such as the Ministry of Food, have imported, and may in future wish to import, articles which are patented in this country, and in many cases to resell them. At present, these powers are provided by Regulation 4 of the Defence (Patents, Trade Marks, etc.) Regulations, but that Regulation is not retrospective in its effects. Sub-section (3) of Clause 2 makes the provision operative as from 3rd September, 1939, the date of the beginning of the war. The House will notice that in this Clause we have taken a fairly long view, because we provide for possibilities arising not only out of this war but out of any subsequent wars in which we may happen to be engaged.

Clause 3 is designed, like Clause 1, to safeguard the interests of the patentee. It deals with inventions which, in the interests of national defence, have to be kept secret. Under war conditions, it becomes necessary that information about secret inventions should be imparted to an Ally. It is desirable that such inventions should be accorded protection in the country to which the communication is imparted, similar to the protection which is accorded in the country from which the communication was received. Also, it is desirable that the invention should be given a priority of date, depending upon the date on which a pate it was applied for in the country from which the communication was received. But, in order to attain this object, under the present law, the patent or registration must be applied for within 12 months or six months respectively after the original application. In the case of these secret inventions, the period during which such application can properly be made may have already expired. This Clause, by adding a new Section 91B of the main Act, empowers the Board of Trade to make rules to extend that period where reciprocity is given by the other country concerned.

The House will see that we are proceeding by rules which can be made by the Board of Trade. The advantage of such procedure is that it enables the Department to make, or, if necessary, to vary, these rules on a reciprocal basis. Paragraphs (a) to (f) set out the sort of rules, but the list is by no means exclusive. The new Section 91C deals with cases in which, under international arrangements, information about inventions or designs has been supplied; and it enables the Board of Trade, again on the basis of reciprocity, to make the necessary rules to secure that such communications made to this country shall not prejudice the inventor abroad from whom the particular information was received. Section 91D provides that new rules shall be advertised and laid before Parliament, and such rules may, as in the case of the previous Clause, be made retrospective in their operation so that they will apply to patents or designs already transmitted by foreign countries to us, or by patentees here to foreign countries. The House will agree that these rather simple provisions are necessary in the circumstances of the war and I hope that they will allow the Bill to be read a Second time.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

On the question of patents and designs as dealt with by this Bill, one or two things arise in my mind and, no doubt, in the minds of other hon. Members as well. During the war period we receive scores of letters from well-meaning constituents who claim to have found some particular invention which they think would improve the war effort. It may be something to do with the protection of ships, some kind of new gun, or something to stop an aeroplane from falling. Particulars of all these things are sent to us and we in turn send them to the various Departments, but one does not seem to get any further. We want to be able to satisfy our ardent upporters. They wish well to the war and we do not want to disappoint them, but we always seem to get up against a blank wall. I wonder whether there is anything to deal with this sort of thing in the provisions of this Bill. Is my hon. and gallant Friend going to help these people to get their patents filed? I do not know whether this is the right time or place to raise this matter but one likes to obtain as much information as possible so that he can give his constituents a proper account of the position.

Captain Waterhouse

With the permission of the House, I wish to say that I sympathise with my hon. Friend and that I myself have many constituents who have been transmitting these happy thoughts to me, but I am afraid that this particular Bill will not help them at all. The Bill deals entirely with inventions and designs, applications for which have already been made, and inventions and designs which have already been patented or registered. I am afraid that the only hope of my hon. Friend is that his perseverance with Government Departments will result in someone having a brain-wave sufficiently bright to get a satisfactory answer from them.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for the next Sitting day.—[Mr. Munro.]