HC Deb 15 December 1975 vol 902 cc944-6
8. Mr. English

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he proposes this Session to bring in a measure to reform United Kingdom patent law on the lines proposed in Command Paper No. 6000, or whether he will bring in during the Session a short Bill which would enable Her Majesty's Government to ratify pending international patent conventions by the promised dates.

Mr. Clinton Davis

I am aware that ratification by the United Kingdom of the European Patent Convention at the end of 1976 is important for British interests, and my right hon. Friend intends to introduce a comparatively short Bill to enable this as soon as circumstances permit. Further legislation will be necessary to enact the White Paper proposals for patent law reform and to permit ratification of the Patent Co-operation Treaty and of the Community Patent Convention, which is being signed in Luxembourg today. Due to pressure of parliamentary business it will not be possible to introduce this more comprehensive legislation during the present Session.

Mr. English

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's answer. He says "as soon as circumstances permit". Can he be more precise and say that it will be in time for us to have English representatives in the European Patent Office at Munich? Obviously "as soon as circumstances permit" is a parliamentary term. After eight years of discussion on this subject there must be something wrong with our system if everybody else is setting it up and we are not there.

Mr. Davis

As I have indicated, we hope to be able to introduce legislation, if at all possible, within the current Session. But this is not, as my hon. Friend will recognise, entirely within the control of the Department of Trade. I am very much aware of the need for this legislation and of the handicaps which will arise, especially in relation to our representatives at the European Patent Office, if we do not have this legislation.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Will the Minister beware representing as reforms what are lamentable necessities? Is it not a fact that the Banks Committee's recommendation is basically to import into patent law the German concept of obviousness, which is generally regarded in this country as impracticable, and to separate the enforcement into validity litigation in, say, Germany, and infringement litigation in the country in which the alleged infringement has taken place? Is this not really the legality of Bedlam?

Mr. Davis

I do not accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's views. The Banks Committee put forward a variety of propositions which we would seek to enact in a comprehensive Bill. This would have included a number of controversial aspects. The hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to one of them. We also have to take into account the question of a code for employees' inventions and, as I have indicated, a number of other controversial matters.

Mr. Lee

In this important matter is there not a need to use the powers for Crown use? Is it not true that, either because the Government have not been energetic or because the 1949 Act is not clear, those powers have not been used anywhere near the extent to which they should have been used, and that this has been noticeable in regard to proprietary medicines?

Mr. Davis

My hon. Friend has touched upon another aspect of the Banks Committee's proposals, dealing with the compulsory licensing of pharmaceuticals. I cannot accept in its entirety the indictment that has been levelled by my hon. Friend. However, he has made an important point, and we would clearly be anxious to legislate on this matter at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Costain

Is the Minister aware that it is three years since the Banks Report was published? Surely the House is entitled to debate this matter before legislation is introduced. Will he use his best endeavours with the Leader of the House to see whether time can be made available for a debate?

Mr. Davis

I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the hon. Gentleman's observations.

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