HL Deb 16 December 1974 vol 355 cc1001-3

6.57 p.m.

Lord WINTERBOTTOM rose to move, That the Draft Patents (Fees Amendment) Order 1974, laid before the House on 26th November, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this Order in Council is to make it possible to raise the fees charged for the grant and maintenance of patents. The main revenue producing patent fees are governed by an Order in Council of 1970 which lays down the maxima which may be charged. These maxima can be changed only by means of an Affirmative Resolution of each House of Parliament. Perhaps it would be convenient if I were to outline at this stage the procedure for obtaining the increased fees which the Patent Office seeks to obtain.

As I have already indicated, the first stage in the process is to seek the approval of Parliament to change the maxima prescribed in the 1970 Order in Council. If Parliament confers its approval, the Patent Office, having already devised the scale of fees which it deems appropriate to meet the criteria imposed upon it, will refer to the Price Commission to obtain its agreement to recommend the specific fees within the limits prescribed by the new maxima. In the event that the Price Commission approves the application, a Statutory Instrument would be tabled, prescribing the new fees, which would be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure.

It has been settled Government policy for many years that the fees payable to the Patent Office—those payable in respect of the grant and maintenance of patents and the registration and maintenance of trade marks and designs—should meet the costs of the respective branches of the Office administering the systems. However, during the period of price restraint the Patent Office has been limited as to the extent to which it could raise fees. Thus notwithstanding an increase under stage 2 of the Price Code, there was a deficit in respect of patents over the financial year of 1973–74 of about £1¼ million.

Despite the fact that every effort is made to keep costs down the deficit has continued to increase, largely as a result of labour costs which account for over 60 per cent. of total office expenditure. Present estimates are that if fees are not raised the deficit over the present financial year will reach £2½ million. It follows, therefore, that immediate increases in fees are imperative and, as I have said, specific proposals will shortly be put to the Price Commission. However, the present maximum fees Order allows for increases in the current fees level by only about 20 per cent. and so as a preliminary to increasing the actual fees charged it is necessary to raise the maxima.

I wish to emphasise that the fees now being considered are, of course, only maxima, governing the discretion which the Department of Trade has as to the actual fees to be charged. As I have stated previously, when it comes to prescribing the actual level of fees to be charged in the near future this will be done by Rules which will be laid before Parliament and will be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. It is our belief that we should not have to present the House with a maximum fees order requiring an Affirmative Resolution at too frequent intervals, and since if the Office is to get back on an even keel a substantial increase is inevitable we propose increasing all but one of the maxima by 100 per cent. to accommodate the immediate increase and to allow for further increases. The exception is the £1 fee charged on application for a patent, which is unchanged. This £1 fee is a unique feature which enables the impecunious inventor to protect his invention at minimum cost for a year while looking for a backer. My Lords, I therefore move the approval of the draft Order.

Moved, That the Draft Patents (Fees Amendment) Order 1974, laid before the House on 26th November, be approved.—(Lord Winterbottom.)

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for laying before your Lordships the full details of this Order. The particular points to which I would draw your Lordships' attention in this case are certain specific points relating to the question of what a patentee expects. Any patentee on application wishes to acquire, first, registration, and secondly, security. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, in view of the new scale of fees, covering the deficit he has mentioned to your Lordships of £2½ million, whether he can give the House an undertaking that the security which is so necessary in the case of patents and the problems concerned with retaining all the details under a fully secured system will be maintained. What is so necessary in our view is to encourage initiative in the young inventor, and the young impecunious inventor, which the noble Lord has particularly mentioned. We in this country are dependent on a vast number of inventive people who are particularly anxious to bring their ideas under guarantee. It is therefore important that these fees be maintained at the absolute minimum in order to cover the charges for registration. I should be most grateful if the noble Lord can provide the House with information about security, which in an era when industrial espionage is on the increase is a matter of great public importance.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, having been invited just now by my noble friend Lord Aberdare to intervene in the debate on the last Order, I have been preparing a speech to make on this Order. But, looking round, I feel rather daunted by the cohorts on the Benches opposite and I think I will hold my hand for another time.

7.4 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, for his constructive attitude to the Order. Of course, all Parties at all times have been in full agreement that the young and (what shall I say?) creative but impecunious individual should have a chance to register his ideas and after registration to have a period of security. I am reasonably certain that that security system continues. In my time I have applied for patents—which brought me no money but which cost me something. Therefore, it is a great consolation to me to be able to reassure the noble Lord that security continues once registration has taken place and £1 fee has been paid. I am certain that the genius of this country will not be hampered by this particular Order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.