Clause 7 - Restrictions on applications abroad by United Kingdom residents

Patents Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 15th June 2004.

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Photo of Mr Brian Cotter Mr Brian Cotter Shadow Minister (Trade & Industry), Trade & Industry, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson 11:15 am, 15th June 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 14, in clause 7, page 3, line 42, leave out 'national security' and insert

'the defence of the realm'.

I want to highlight a concern of mine that others share. The amendment is clear in expressing concern that the comptroller can make directions in any circumstances in which there is a need to protect the national security interest of the United Kingdom. The phrase ''national security'' is much wider-ranging than ''defence of the realm'', and it could be interpreted as being a much more intangible test. I ask the Minister to clarify why the Government feel it necessary to make a change of wording; there must be some reason for it. I would like him to justify it, because there are concerns that we are slightly tinkering at the edges of issues of security and the protection of individual rights.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs)

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns. It would be most unsatisfactory if the limitations on filing patent applications abroad that are present in section 23 of the Patents Act 1977 were made worse not better. Clause 7 is significantly deregulatory and reduces the section 23 restrictions on the filing of patent applications in other countries. Restrictions will remain only where an application relates to sensitive subject matter, which, if published, would be prejudicial to national security or to the public's safety.

The hon. Gentleman queried the scope of ''national security'' in section 23. I believe, however, that he might be concerned about too many patent applications not being published if that term was too broad in scope. Therefore, he may be more concerned about the use of the term ''national security'' in relation to section 22 of the 1977 Act. Paragraph 7 of schedule 2 of this Bill would change ''defence of the realm'' to ''national security''. Section 22 of the 1977 Act currently permits the comptroller to give directions prohibiting or restricting the publication of information in a patent application that might be prejudicial to the defence of the realm. Naturally, I would not want the provision to be broader than is necessary to ensure proper protection in a sensitive area. It is part of the deal with the state that when a patent is applied for or granted the information in the patent application or patent will be published so that others will be aware of, and can develop their inventions, in the light of other people's ideas. That is one way in which patents support innovation. They provide a comprehensive database of the latest technological developments to which everyone can have access. In amending section 22 of the 1977 Act by changing the words ''defence of the realm'' to ''national security'', we do not intend that there should be a broadening of what information can be prohibited in dissemination. We intend only to bring the wording of the Act into line with other legislation and with modern terminology, such as that used in paragraph 3(2) of the schedule to the Export Control Act 2002.

In deregulating section 23, so that it applies only to sensitive applications that might be made abroad, it is sensible to use the same modern terminology as is proposed for section 22.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept my reassurance that the measure is not about restricting and agree to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Mr Brian Cotter Mr Brian Cotter Shadow Minister (Trade & Industry), Trade & Industry, Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson

How could I resist the Minister's reassurance? I feel great confidence now that he has reassured me doubly and trebly. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 8 and 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.