HL Deb 25 July 1918 vol 30 cc1194-7

LORD ARMAGHDALE rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether the Order of the Board of Trade with reference to payments to and on behalf of enemies in respect of patents, designs, and trade marks, will have the effect of revoking the 944 enemy applications for patents filed and accepted since the commencement of the war; or whether these accepted applications will continue to prevent the deposit of British applications for similar patents.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the object of my question is to clear up a doubt which exists as to the effect of the Board of Trade notice issued last week with regard to enemy patents. On the face of it, the notice simply revokes the general licence under which the payment was permitted of fees due in enemy countries for the grant, registration, or renewal of patents, licences, and trade marks. The effect of this Board of Trade notice is to prohibit all such payments in the future. That no doubt is very satisfactory so far as it goes. But the point I desire to have cleared up is, What is to happen to the application for patents from enemy subjects which have been filed and accepted at the Patent Office since the commencement of the war? The President of the Board of Trade in another place stated that 1,300 applications for the grant of patents had been received fron enemy subjects since the outbreak of the war, and out of that number no less than 944 had been accepted. I should like to know whether all these 944 accepted applications are still to stand on the files of the Patent Office, thus preventing the deposit of all British applications for similar patents. I think your Lordships will agree that, if they are allowed to stand, a great injustice will be done to British inventors, and I hope that the Government will be able to tell us that these acceptances will be cancelled.

The Home Secretary said last week that it is proposed to discontinue the receiving of applications from enemy subjects for the grant of patents, and of course the prohibition of the payment of renewal fees will, I presume, prevent the keeping alive of existing enemy patents, at all events for the benefit of enemy subjects. It seems to me, therefore, that the only logical course for the Government to take is to cancel the 944 accepted applications. It should, I think, be recognised that most of the patents that have been applied for by Germans are certainly not intended to assist the manufacturers of this country. On the contrary they are, I believe, intended to create a monopoly, to be used in order to impede British trade and manufacture. It is important, therefore, that every possible step should be taken to check these designs and to give free scope to our own inventors to obtain patents which will be used for the benefit of the trade and industry of this country.

Now that it has been decided that for four or five years after the war no German shall he naturalised in this country and no enemy banks will he allowed to reopen business, I think the Government ought also to decide not to grant any patents to the Germans for a certain number of years after the war. I observe that some of the Chambers of Commerce have passed resolutions to this effect, and there is undoubtedly a strong demand for such an embargo throughout the country. If this policy is decided upon, as I trust it may be, it follows as a logical consequence that the 944 applications which have already been accepted should be cancelled without further delay, and I trust that the noble Lord who will reply on behalf of the Government will be able to give us an assurance to this effect.


My Lords, in replying on behalf of the Government I am obliged to my noble friend for the form in which he has raised this Question, to which a satisfactory answer is necessarily difficult without going very fully into the complicated provisions of the patent laws. The revocation of the licence by the Board of Trade in reference to payments to and on behalf of enemies in respect of patents, designs, and trade-marks will not have the effect of revoking the 944 enemy applications for patents filed and accepted since the commencement of the war. The publication of the invention on these accepted applications will not prevent the deposit of British applications for similar patents, but, like any other publication, will render invalid the grant of a patent for any precisely similar invention. Such cases, however, of the bona fide existence of identical and independent inventions would be extremely rare. The publication will not prevent the grant of a patent for an invention of a similar nature which consisted of improvements on the published inventions or of any features connected therewith which constituted a new inventive step.

As the Hole Secretary stated in the House of Commons on July 11, the procedure under which these applications were made was and is still in force throughout the Empire and also in Allied countries, and the German Government treated British applications in the same way. This arrangement secured to this country, I would remind the noble Lord, the benefit of new ideas originating in enemy countries, and secured also the protection of British industrial property in enemy countries. As regards cancellation, no other country has, it is believed, cancelled enemy applications, with the possible exception of Russia. The majority of these applications are already vested and all will eventually be vested in the Public Trustee, who will have full control over them and will, if required, grant licences to British subjects. Their future treatment and fate will depend, and must depend, on the terms of peace, and the general policy which is adopted towards enemy property.

It may further be pointed out that the cancellation of these applications would probably be followed by reprisals and the cancellation of British applications in Germany. The withdrawal of protection from inventions in such cases would mean a scramble by each country for the inventions of the other. If, therefore, further and definite action be taken on this head it must be done after the fullest consideration of all the various interests concerned and of the possible results of such actions, which may not be only those desired by the noble Lord who asked the Question.

With regard to the other points raised, I am informed that the majority of Allied countries have allowed time for the payment of all patent fees until after the war. The majority of countries have also allowed time for inventors to claim their right of priority for six months after the war, on reciprocity being given, and this, with the exception of Italy, applies to the dealings of the Allies with all enemy countries. With regard to what the noble Lord said as to banks and other businesses, I would remind him that there is no analogy between winding up banks and businesses, on the one hand, and the revocation of patents or applications for them on the other. The one is the final putting an end to the carrying on of the business; the other is the cancellation of rights of property or what is so recognised universally at the present time. The whole subject raised by the noble Lord is surrounded by a great many difficulties, and I have endeavoured to answer the questions to the best of my ability. I trust that if he desires to raise any point he will remember that this question is one which requires the very fullest consideration.


I am obliged to my noble friend for the courtesy of his reply, but I am bound to say I regard it as highly unsatisfactory, and I beg to give notice that I shall take an early opportunity of raising the question in another form.