Schedule 2 - Minor and consequential amendments

Patents Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 15th June 2004.

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Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Trade and Industry) (Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs) 3:30 pm, 15th June 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 15, in schedule 2, page 12, line 24, at end insert—

'In section 1 (patentable inventions), in subsection (1)(d), after ''subsections (2) and (3)'' there is inserted ''or section 4A''.'.

We addressed Opposition amendment No. 1 this morning, and the Government accepted the principle that the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire identified about the patents. I will explain the background first, and the rest should flow from that.

In the interests of public health, a patent cannot be granted for an invention that comprises a medical method—that is, a method of treatment or diagnosis. If such a patent is granted, anyone can later ask the courts or the Patent Office to revoke it. The Bill simplifies the legal mechanism by which such medical methods are excluded from patentability, and in doing so aligns UK law with the revised European patent convention.

The right hon. Gentleman argued that the new provision might give rise to doubt over whether, if a patent is granted for such an invention in the future, it could be revoked later. If someone wished to revoke a patent that had been granted for a method or treatment, it is possible that they could argue successfully for revocation on the grounds that new section 4A makes it clear that a patent may not be granted for a medical method invention, so the courts could well deduce that it was never the Bill's intention to remove the possibility of revoking a patent for a medical method. Nevertheless, I can see that this is a less certain position than at present, and it is better to ensure that we continue to provide this outcome explicitly in UK patent law. We saw the benefits of addressing the issue that the right hon. Gentleman raised, but we have chosen a slightly different form of words to achieve what we think he intended to achieve.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in

schedule 2, page 12, line 36, at end insert—

'(5A) In section 16 (publication of application), at the end there is inserted—

''(3) The Comptroller will keep confidential the address of any inventor or applicant (if also the inventor) if requested by the inventor to do so.''.'.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 4, in

schedule 2, page 15, line 6, at end insert

'and subject to section 24(4) (publication and certificate of grant)'.

No. 2, in

schedule 2, page 13, leave out lines 27 to 29 and insert—

'(4) The Comptroller will keep confidential the address of any inventor or applicant (if also an inventor) if requested by the inventor to do so.'.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

In another place, the concerns of bioscientists were addressed by making the identity of inventors confidential in schedule 2. The bioindustry raised with me the problem that I brought up on Second Reading that what really needs to be kept confidential to protect the safety of bioscientists from animal rights activists is not their identity but their address. If their identity is also protected, that makes it harder to do a search against known inventors for important inventions, which makes it more difficult to discover whether a patent exists. The purpose of the amendments is to discover whether it might be better to keep inventors' addresses confidential instead of their names, in the hope that that would provide some protection for bioscientists without causing difficulty for the BioIndustry Association.

How will the measure work in practice in relation to other European countries, which may have different rules about confidentiality? Will it be possible to look up on a German patent office website the name and address of an inventor, despite the fact that the name, address or both is kept secret on the UK Patent Office website? I would be grateful if the Minister addressed those concerns and talked us through how, in practice, international confidentiality is expected to work, and what he thinks is the right way forward for protecting scientists and allowing searches for bioindustry inventions.

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

Once again, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for pushing the Government and trying to tease out why we want to deal with the problem. He raised the issue on Second Reading, and is quite right to say that it was raised in the other place, too.

I think the right hon. Gentleman accepts that the wording of his amendment would not necessarily resolve the problem in the way that he would like. However, it is the spirit of the amendment and what he is trying to achieve that we need to consider. We all agree that a balance has to be struck between the public's right of access to information about patents and the rights of individuals to have their personal details protected.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we originally proposed that an inventor should be able to have his address kept confidential by the Patent Office, but in another place we heard persuasive arguments from the Opposition parties that that did not go far enough, particularly when it came to protecting inventors employed by businesses involved in controversial technologies. We all know of the examples raised in the various debates. The noble Lords pointed out that an inventor's address would be all too easy to find if he had a name that was the least bit unusual—unlike Arbuthnot, which is not unusual in any way. Furthermore, it is worth knowing that in all likelihood the patent applicant will be the inventor's employer. It

would be even easier to locate the inventor, given that the identity and location of his employer would be known.

The right hon. Gentleman's concern about the potential loss of a tool for searching patent databases was certainly considered in another place. I reassure him that the point did not pass us by when we balanced up the competing arguments. We listened to the points made in another place and were persuaded that our original proposal, to which the right hon. Gentleman would like us to return, did not quite get the balance right. It provided little or no real protection for inventors working on controversial technologies. We introduced amendments to make it possible for an inventor to have both his name and address kept confidential by the Patent Office in appropriate circumstances. That will give some protection to those inventors—they are no doubt a small minority—who wish to have such protection, without having a significant effect on the information about patents and applications that is publicly available.

For the sake of completeness, I should mention that that will not be an option if the inventor is also the patent applicant. In that case, his name and address will have to remain available to the public. It is, of course, right that the public always know to whom patent rights have been awarded, and who is requesting those rights.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

Why is it necessary for the home address of the person to be given out? Is it not permissible simply to make available the business address of the patent holder?

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

The requirement is for the home address, but I shall reflect on that and let the right hon. Gentleman know the exact details in writing—unless, by a miracle, the answer comes before I finish.

We were talking about UK patent law and what happens in the rest of Europe. I do not want to minimise those concerns, because I have been made aware by lots of industries, particularly the controversial ones, about the extent to which individuals are put under pressure. There are reprehensible attacks on people's homes and, in some cases, even on the businesses supplying the technology.

The benefits of confidentiality in the UK may be limited where the inventor's employers choose to apply for patents in countries where no such confidentiality is available. Confidentiality is available for inventors who are associated with European patents. If other countries follow suit, that will help, too. The fact that confidentiality is not available in every other country is not a reason for doing nothing or for failing to offer the limited protection that it is in our power to provide.

People do not have to use the home address. The business address can be used, but even if it is, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that people can be identified. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that explanation.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot Shadow Secretary of State (Trade and Industry)

I accept what the Minister says. This is an important, fundamental rule-of-law issue. We need to protect scientists going about their ordinary lives, and we need to protect their families and people with whom they do business. I accept that it is essential, in the interests of the freedoms of this country, that we protect them. Nevertheless, in drawing the right balance, it is important that people should be able to search for patents. I am grateful for his explanation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clauses 16 and 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.