|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am afraid that I omitted to put my name to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, but I fully support his reasoning, and I would support him if he chose to test the opinion of the House.
We are living in different times. In the 1950s, the noble Earl, my grandfather, used to go home by public transport, and everyone knew where he lived. It is now easy to work out an address, given a name, especially if it happens to be Razzall or Attlee, as mentioned by the noble Lord. It is true that other countries require the name and address of an inventor to be published, but there will be other significant differences in their legal system. They will have other checks and balances to protect the individual. If we stop making the release of the inventor's name compulsory, other countries might consider whether their arrangements need to be reviewed.
The Minister will point to the requirement of researchers to know the inventor's name. The noble Lord, Lord Razzall, suggested that it would be a small number of inventors who would want to keep their names confidential. In Committee, I suggested that it should be possible to give an inventor who requests it an anonymous reference number. Of course, once he starts using that reference number, he must keep using it. Most inventors would want their names to be publishedin fact, it is thought that is the reason behind the significant number of patent applications. However, there will always be some who desire privacy. In Grand Committee, the Minister said that the public had a right to know the inventor's name, as part of the deal when the state bestows a right in the form of a patent. It is important to remember that the applicant enjoys the right, not the employee inventor, who normally gets only his usual reward as an employee, except if he is enjoying compensation under Section 40. I support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, argued in Committee and again today that there is a balance to be struck between the right of the public at large to have access to information that is relevant to patents, and the right of a more limited group of individuals to have their personal details protected. Other noble Lords supported his view. I have had time to reflect on the arguments put to me in Committee, and I have listened carefully to the points made by the noble Lord today.
I remain of the view that it will be only of fairly limited benefit to an inventor if he can have his name and address kept confidential in the UK. In many cases, patents will have been applied for in other countries where the inventor's details will be made public. The noble Lord, Lord Razzall, was somewhat dismissive of this point in Committee and again today, on the rather curious argument that you did not have to apply for a patent, but with patents, particularly in
In light of what I have heard from the noble Lords opposite, both today and in Committee, I am prepared to provide the limited benefit that will result from changing UK practice in this respect. We will therefore bring forward an amendment at Third Reading that will ensure that an inventor may have his name and address kept confidential at the patent office in appropriate circumstances. This amendment may simply make one or two minor adjustments to the 1977 Act, which will clear the way for the necessary procedures to be set out in secondary legislation. We will be looking carefully at the drafting necessary to achieve this. It will not become possible for a patent applicant or patent holder to keep his name and address confidential, but we will no doubt wish to consult users of the patent systems before setting out the detailed mechanism in rules. I hope that the noble Lord will accept our undertaking and withdraw his amendment.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, the objective of this amendment is to make the law clearer and lift vague and unnecessary burdens from industry and its advisers. Under current law, Section 22 of the 1977 Act gives the comptroller power to control publication of information in patent specifications if to do so would be prejudicial to the defence of the realm or the safety of the public. To allow for this, Section 23 provides that patent applicants must not file abroad until six weeks after filing in the UK without special leave. To make life easier, the Bill as amended abolishes the six-week period for all information not prejudicial to national security or the safety of the public. This is most welcome. However, it is not completely clear what is meant by the safety of the public. No doubt it overlaps largely with national security. If it overlaps completely, it is redundant, and if not, what else does it include? Many applications include information that is capable of misuse; for example, toxicity data for drugs or pesticides. The problem is that applicants may have to err on the side of caution and adhere to the Section 23 provisions, thus negating the Government's laudable deregulation aims.
The Minister will say that the safety of the public has been in the Act since 1978, and has not caused problems. That is a reference to Section 22, the power of the comptroller to restrict the release of information. The comptroller must make the judgement on behalf of the applicant's Section 23 notification, if I may put it
Lord Triesman: My Lords, as I said in Grand Committee, the provisions now in Clause 7 would provide considerable benefit for UK residents wishing to file patent applications in other countries. The existing general restrictions on the filing of such applications in Section 23 of the 1977 Act would be deregulated by this clause. They would only apply where the application contained information which, if published, might be prejudicial to national security or the safety of the public. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked what the distinction between those might be. I have also sought to satisfy myself as to what the distinction might be. To be candid, it is not easy to give detailed examples, but it is certainly the case that the security services believe that the comprehensive nature of the two expressions covers every kind of eventuality that could be conceived. That is advice that it would be better to take. Therefore, retention of references to the safety of the public in Section 22 and including it in Section 23 achieves that. It is possible to come up with some sorts of hypothetical examples, but that would not be particularly sensible.
The effect of the amendment would be to further limit the application of Section 23, and it would remove restrictions where publishing the information in the application might be prejudicial to the safety of the public. As I hope I made clear in Committee, an important reason for referring to both national security and the safety of the public in this section is for parity with Section 22 of the 1977 Act. It provides continuity in that sense. Section 22, which sets out procedures restricting or prohibiting publication of information in patent applications filed at the UK patent office has, for more than 25 years, covered information prejudicial to the safety of the public and information that is required to be restricted for the defence of the realm.
It is true that the provision in Section 22 relating to the safety of the public has been invoked on few occasions. Although there may be relatively few circumstances in which the provision might be needed, an application could contain information that might not fall within the ambit of national security but could be of a nature such as to necessitate prohibition, in order to protect the public. Moreover, we cannot always predict the future direction of innovation or the ingenuity of inventors, so we would want to ensure that the provision could serve a more important purpose in safeguarding the public in the future.
In order to ensure that no necessary protection for the public is lostnow and until the next time that we have an opportunity to update patents lawthe simple and safe solution is to follow the precedents and retain the provision in this form. I hope that, in the circumstances, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, who is also rightly
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. He said that the two phrases would cover every eventuality. That is what worries me. Applicants will play safe, and my fear is that the deregulation will not work as well as the Minister intends.