HL Deb 14 May 1973 vol 342 cc604-5

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking:

  1. (1) to secure a satisfactory position for the British patent system within the framework of:
    1. (a) The E.E.C. patent system now being proposed;
    2. (b) The more broadly based European patent system; and
  2. (2) to maintain the efficiency of the British patent Office until such time as a working arrangement acceptable to United Kingdom industrial and professional interests has been agreed.


My Lords, the European and the Community Patent Conventions are expected to enter into force not earlier than 1976, but the British patent system will continue to exist after that date. An applicant will therefore have the alternative of a European patent or a purely British patent. It is intended to amend British patent law so as both to strengthen it in accordance with the main recommendations of the Report of the Banks Committee and to bring it into line with European patent law. It is expected that some European patent work will for a time be done in the British Patent Office on an agency basis. As the European system gets under way the number of British patent applications filed will diminish, so there will be problems of adjustment; but we intend to maintain an efficient British Patent Office operating side by side with the European patents system.


My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for that Answer, which I think will be read with interest by the patent community and industry in general, but I should like to ask him two supplementary questions. First, when does he feel that the Government will introduce legislation along the lines he has suggested? Secondly, does he not think that the agency arrangements which are proposed will not be adequate enough for the needs of British industry here, particularly when about 60 to 80 per cent. of the patents which are applied for and being granted will be conducted in the British language?


My Lords, as to legislation, that is not a matter on which any Government give a clear indication in advance. I would only say to my noble friend that it was sensible to proceed with the negotiations for European patents and Community patents and it is expected that the European Patent Convention will be concluded at a diplomatic conference in Munich in September, 1973, and the Community Patent Convention will be concluded at a further conference in May, 1974. As to the question of agencies, subject to the agreement of the Administrative Council the British Patent Office may expect to receive up to one-third of the European applications filed. This work can be conferred on the office under the draft Convention for a period of 15 years from the opening of the European Patent Office, though it will be reduced progressively during the last 5 years. It is important, of course, that we should have as strong a representation at Munich as possible, and this may involve the transfer of people at present in the British Patent Office to the European Patent Office and the recruitment of British people with the necessary language qualifications. I agree that this is an important matter, and it is the intention of the Government to proceed with it as quickly as possible.


My Lords, I am afraid the noble Lord may think that this is another question, but could he say whether the British law of copyright will be affected in the same way as patent law?


Yes, my Lords, that is a different question, if I may be allowed to say so.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he realises that his reply to this Question will be received by the majority of people in this country with just two words—"Thank God!"?