HC Deb 10 March 1981 vol 1000 cc745-6
10. Sir David Price

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will take steps, in conjunction with the University Grants Committee and the research councils, to ensure that research scientists on publicly funded projects are permitted and encouraged to share financially in the results of their work, both corporately and individually.

Mr. Macfarlane

Employees of the research councils and the universities are covered by sections 39 to 41 of the Patents Act 1977, which entitles them to a fair share of the benefit their employer derives from inventions patented under that Act.

Sir David Price

In the light of my hon. Friend's reply, may I ask if he is aware that I know of instances in public research establishments where a more fruitful partnership with private industry is being frustrated by the rigidity of the financial rules? Perhaps the responsibility is not that of my hon. Friend but of the Treasury.

Mr. Macfarlane

The responsibilities overlap a number of Departments, including the NRDC, and universities and the research councils, for which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has responsibility. I am aware of some of the anomalies. That matter was considered by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals in 1976, when it produced a report on patents and the commercial exploitation of research results. There is an ongoing discussion at the moment to see whether there could be any alterations to those procedures and regulations relating to inventions made by members of staff. That matter is under review.

Mr. Nelson

Will my hon. Friend confirm that where no patents are taken out, or where the question of patents does not arise in funding, no undue restrictions are attached to funding made by either the University Grants Committee or the research councils?

Mr. Macfarlane

I cannot give my hon. Friend that assurance. It takes several years to grant a patent. So far, no employees have benefited from that provision because the Act came into force in June 1978. A number of exgratia awards have been made to inventors, but suffice it to say that my Department is keeping the matter closely under review.

Mr. Cormack

Will my hon. Friend gently suggest to his officials that the Department of Education and Science could give a lead by deleting from parliamentary answers such words and phrases as"ongoing", and"this moment in time"?

Mr. Macfarlane

I detect a note of acrimony from my hon. Friend. We shall make not a gentle observation, but a most robust suggestion.