New Clause 1 - Compulsory binding technical arbitration for new and existing patents

Part of Patents Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 15th June 2004.

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Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry) 3:15 pm, 15th June 2004

The hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) has given an interesting expose of an important argument. The aim behind the non-binding opinion proposal is to encourage people not to go straight to court because they have an alternative method of resolving patent disputes, by negotiation if possible. That is a laudable aim, and we would like it to come true. However, I am not quite sure how it will be achieved—perhaps the Minister can set that out in his response.

I do not know whether compulsory binding technical arbitration is the answer, but it may be. It is easy to pick holes in new clause 1, but if we do not go down that route, how does the Minister intend to support small and medium-sized enterprises that find

the cost of litigation completely unaffordable? It is not surprising that it costs £1 million to take a patent enforcement action, because it deals with highly technical issues of great difficulty and involves expensive scientists and lawyers—and I declare an interest as an expensive lawyer. It is necessary to find small and medium-sized enterprises a small degree of relief. If the Minister intends to pick holes in the new clause, it will be interesting to hear what he is going to do instead.

The Minister, as graciously as ever, said that he supports the patent enforcement project, yet somehow it always seems to be just over horizon; it is about to report—but not yet. I would love to know when it will report and whether, when it does so, it will produce anything to help small and medium-sized enterprises. The Minister asked the hon. Member for Gordon where the technical experts were to come from. In a sense, his intervention contained an implication of despair—namely, that technical issues in patents cases have to be decided by the ignorant. That is not necessarily true.