On a point of order. Is there not a Money Resolution required in connection with this Bill?
Local Elections (Dublin) Bill, 1929. - Industrial and Commercial Property (Protection) (Amendment) Bill, 1929.—Second Stage.
This is the Second Stage.
It is only necessary for the Third Stage.
In connection with the Defence Forces Bill, with which we have just dealt, there was a Money Resolution.
Is a Money Resolution required before Second Reading?
The long title of this Bill is:—"An Act to make divers minor amendments in the Industrial and Commercial Property (Protection) Act, 1927, and also to amend that Act by making further and better provision in relation to the assignment of the benefit of inventions and patents to Ministers on behalf of the State, and in relation to copyright in notes issued by the Currency Commission." The Bill is really a matter for deliberation in Committee rather than on Second Reading. There is not even a thread of principle running through the series of amendments which this Bill proposes to make. They are simply amendments that have been discovered to be necessary for the better working of the Principal Act of 1927. Section 1 is purely formal. Section 2 comes to this: that under Section 19 (5) of the Principal Act, and the rules made under it, there has been lodged in the office, within the specified period of one month of the acceptance in London, a copy of an accepted specification and certain proofs as certified by the London Controller. It has been found in practice that a period of one month is not long enough. There are a number of accepted specifications lodged later than a month which cannot be proceeded with unless this is passed. We propose two months, or such longer period as the Controller may in any particular case allow, and we propose to have this section made retrospective so as to apply to specifications already lodged, but lodged too late. This deals with patents, and Sections 7 and 8 deal with exactly the same point, one in relation to trade marks and the other in relation to designs.
Section 3 is also an enlargement of the time period. There is a question of payment of renewal fees and the prescribed time for the payment of such fees is before the expiry of the year next preceding the year in respect of which the fee is due. That is contained in the Second Schedule to the Principal Act. Under Section 33 (2) of the Principal Act the Controller may extend the prescribed time for six months, and the object is to allow the patent agents to get in touch with their clients, who may be living in various parts of the world, to find out whether they wish their patents kept alive in this country or not. Again, that period of six months has been found to be too short, and we propose a period of twenty months from 1st October, 1927. It is necessary for the business of the office. It is simply to enable patent agents all over the world to get in touch with their clients who have patents which may be allowed to subsist in this country, to see whether they consider it worth while paying a renewal fee. We want to give time to get in touch with them and for them to make up their mind. There is a minor amendment to substitute the words, "any fee" for the words "the first fee." That is an intricate detail point which, if Deputies will allow me, I will leave over to the Committee Stage, when the two phrases can be better read together.
As to Section 4, the position in which the office finds itself in requiring this amendment is a peculiar one. British patents granted before 1st October, 1927, are valid here without registration, but the Act makes provision for having a complete record of all such British patents and entries thereon on our register. That is purely for office convenience, in order to have the office properly documented and the records properly kept. The Act worked quite well in so far as patents proper were concerned, because under Section 29, sub-section (6), and also Section 45, it has been made obligatory that there should be furnished to the Controller all the entries in the British register relating to the patents before the payment of the renewal fees, and if not furnished, the renewal fees will be refused, and the patent lapses. That worked satisfactorily with regard to patents proper, but there is a special type of patent called "a patent of addition," in respect to which there are no renewal fees payable. Consequently, there may never be a record of that particular type of patent made here, and there is not the same control that there is in the case of patents proper. This amendment will compel the holders of a patent of addition to furnish to the Controller the entries on the British register relating to that particular type of patent, the penalty being the same as before. If the record is not so furnished, then the Controller will allow the patent to lapse. We have mentioned a particular date, which seems to be the date upon which the ordinary British patent would normally be on our register, as being the date, which is January, 1932. That affords sufficient time for the furnishing of the required particulars. Section 5 is a substitution for Section 46 in the old Act, which enlarges the old power given by enabling the Minister to take not merely all, but any share or interest in the benefit of an invention, and then goes on to state certain things which the person taking the assignment of the patent may do with it. It was thought better to put in all these special items from "A" to "G." This is an enlargement of Section 46.
I said in reply to a question put to me to-day that it might be said that practically I had done things for which I had no statutory authority. That is to be taken subject to certain reservations. There is no doubt that Section 46, at any rate, put a Minister getting the benefit of a patent into the position of an assignee of a patent impliedly, and it is thought that the Minister by becoming the assignee has all the powers to deal with such a patent that any ordinary assignee would have. But, to put the matter beyond all doubt, this new Section 5 is proposed to be substituted for Section 46. If the assignment of the patent under Section 46 did not grant the person taking it full power to deal with it, the grant is of very little use. It only means that the Minister would get such a patent and could prevent anybody from using it, but would be prevented himself from making any use of it. However, this clears up any doubt which there may be about it.
Section 6 contains two points of amendment. The first is the deletion of the words in one sub-section "the firm and" and "the company and." Under Section 63 of the Principal Act the conditions of eligibility to be entered on the register of patent agents apply only to individuals and not to firms or to companies. There is no test of eligibility for the registration of a firm or a company. A firm or a company ought not to be registered as such. The amendment does not prevent the provision applying or otherwise — that is to say, that a firm cannot hold itself out as a patent agent unless every member or partner of the firm or director of the company is registered. The second amendment in that section is brought in to meet certain objections that were formulated against the wording as it originally stood. It was promised to a group of patent agents who passed an examination under the Principal Act. It gives these patent agents in this country a greater share of patent agency business here. Under the Act and rules an agent entered in the London register will not be eligible under the amended section for entry on our register unless that London patent agent resides in, as well as having a place of business in, the Free State.
Sections 7 and 8 are the two sections to which I referred earlier in regard to the enlargement of time, Section 7 with regard to designs, and Section 8 with regard to trade marks.
Section 9 is a very complicated section. There are really two points—one contained in (a) of the proposed amending section, and the other in (b). (a) Simply removes from the proviso in Section 154 (1) of the Act certain words, "and in respect of which no order has been made under the provisions of Section 175 of this Act." The full effect of it amounts to this: that by deleting these words in Section 154, an order may be made under Section 154, although there may be also an order under 175. Obviously there was a limitation in the proviso to Section 154. Certain things are set out in the first part, and there was a proviso that the Governor-General may, on the advice of the Executive Council, by order made, direct that copyright subsisting in Saorstát Eireann under the provisions of this sub-section should be subject to such conditions and formalities. There was a reservation in the proviso that it was to be in respect of which no order had been made under the provisions of Section 175. It is considered desirable to make an order, even although an order of a different type has been made under Section 175.
What is the nature of that particular order?
The Deputy could not understand this unless he has the Principal Act before him. I said in the beginning that these were really Committee points, and all I am pretending to do is to provide a certain sign-post as to what the sections mean. Anything I say will have to be considered in relation to the Principal Act and to the details of this Bill. The proviso is with regard to licensing conditions—I do not know if that is an explanation—the conditions for licensing under which this copyright may be allowed to subsist in the Free State, although the copyright does not subsist originally by virtue of sub-section (1) (a) and (b) of Section 154. There is then power given under Section 175 to make an order of a particular type with certain licensing conditions in it. It is thought that where an order was made under Section 175 there would never be necessity for an order under Section 154.
Owing to a particular thing that has arisen which I will go into in more detail later, there seems to be a necessity definitely for having the power to issue an order under Section 154 even though an order may be issued under Section 175. That is incomprehensible unless Deputies will read the conditions under which licensing orders may be issued both under Section 175 and Section 154. It is a very fine and detailed point which it is impossible to make out unless the two texts are before Deputies.
The second portion is a very simple point. We insert sub-section (2) of the paragraph which follows here instead of the paragraph now contained therein. Section 154 (2) (a) and the amendment before the House are the same except in this respect that (a) as it stands has the words "to produce, reproduce, perform or publish any translation of the work" and then it continues "provided that such right shall as regards translations into the Irish language cease to exist" unless there is publication within ten years in this country. That is what it amounts to. We have to make another reservation and the new section states: "(a) to produce, reproduce, perform or publish any translations of the work: provided that such right" (save as respect the performance or translation of dramatic or musical work). That extra proviso is required because of the Berne Convention and allows us to limit the period of authors' control over translations but does not allow us to limit the period of the authors' control over the performance of translations. We must make that exception. It is a very small point, but it is to keep in line with the international Convention. We still keep the old power with regard to translation, but as to the performance of translations — how and when that is going to arise I do not know — we have to keep in line with a particular convention. It has been pointed out that our law contravened the Convention.
Section 10 is a small point. The expression "Dominion" is not clearly defined in the Act. It is defined as including certain countries. In Section 152 (6) relating to patents, designs and tradesmarks, to the word "dominion" there has been added "protectorate or territory." In the preparation of the order under Section 175, doubt arises as to whether such orders can be made applicable to protectorates or dependencies. We want to remove that doubt and make it clear that we can.
There is a further amendment in Section 10 (b). It is a clear-cut section, bringing in that the order may provide that the term of copyright in Saorstát Eireann shall not exceed that conferred by the law of the Dominion, protectorate, territory or country to which the order relates. Again, this is where we find the law in conflict with the Convention. Under the Convention we are bound to restrict the period of copyright that we give to foreign works to the period of copyright allowed by the law of the country of origin, whereas as Section 175 stood, we had to give them the same period as the old Act gives to our own citizens. Now we are putting it on a different footing — such terms as are given shall not exceed the term of copyright given by the law of the country of origin.
Section 11 is again to remove doubts — to make it clear that the copyright of the notes issued by the Currency Commission belongs to the Commission, and also makes such copyrights perpetual, instead of the term as limited in the case of the ordinary individual, that is to say, for the life of the author and fifty years after his death.
I should say that the really important section is the one which substitutes for Section 46 of the Principal Act Section 5 of this Bill. That section enlarges and elaborates and puts beyond all possibility of doubt the question of the Minister taking the assignment of a patent and establishing fully and clearly his powers of dealing with it. The early sections are merely an enlargement of certain periods of time in cases where the Office finds that the time allowed is not sufficient. Then there is the rather important item in the second part of Clause 6, insisting that any patent agent entered on the London Register shall only be entitled to register here if he resides and has his place of business in Saorstát Eireann.
As the Minister has said, any effective discussion which takes place on this Bill will be on the Committee Stage. On the Second Stage we are supposed to discuss the principle of Bills, but this Bill has no principle, each section being merely framed for the purpose, apparently, of meeting defects which arose in the actual working of the Principal Act. We were not in a position to know what these defects were and we are glad to have the explanation of them given by the Minister, and hope to have an opportunity of considering them in detail through the Official Reports before the Committee Stage is taken. It appears, as the Minister has stated, that Section 5 is the most important section, and there are one or two points concerned with it which I would like to have cleared up.
While I approve generally of the powers defined in the section giving the Minister power with respect to inventions, it does not seem clear that the Dáil would be kept informed of the ultimate decision concerning any patent on which it may have expended some of the taxpayers' money. If, for example, the Minister took an assignment of the whole or any share of the benefit of any patent and procured a sum of money from the Dáil to develop or perfect the invention in the patent, would it be possible for him to grant a licence under the patent with or without valuable consideration, or to lease or sell it with or without valuable consideration without the consent of the Dáil? It seems an undesirable principle if that could happen. In my opinion, from the wording of the section there is nothing to prevent that happening.
With the general principle of the section, if I may call it such, I am in agreement. I think it is desirable, in the particular circumstances of this country, that a member of the Executive Council should have the power to take an assignment of the benefit of any invention or patent and to come to the Dáil for a Vote of money to develop or perfect that invention and to work it. In the interests of the Dáil, however, I think it is desirable that there should be some machinery devised by which the final decision of the Minister with respect to any such patent would be communicated to the Dáil, and would receive its consent before it becomes operative. It is easy to conceive circumstances under which the Dáil might object to any patent, in respect of which it voted a sum of money for development, being sold to an individual or firm for a nominal sum, or being given for no sum at all. I would be glad if the Minister would deal with that point if he intends to make any remarks at the conclusion of this discussion. We are glad to see Section 6. It appears that the wording in the original Act created an anomaly and now it is provided that in order to have one's name registered on the Patent Registry one must not only reside, but have one's place of business in the Saorstát. That, in our opinion, is an improvement and will remove the objections which the patent agents had to the working of the original Act.
When we were discussing a Supplementary Estimate a short time ago, I drew the Minister's attention to the fact that it was a somewhat novel procedure for Governments to purchase shares in inventions. I asked him if there were any precedents for such intervention and he was good enough to inform me that he was not aware of any. It was rather a curious coincidence that this Bill should come on for discussion immediately after the consideration of that Estimate because, on further consideration, I am rather inclined to think that the Minister in purchasing such shares is rather exceeding his powers. That, however, is a matter that one can only refer to incidentally on the Bill. I would like him, if he is not out of order in the matter, to give us his authority for taking such a step. The point I am concerned with in the Bill is, as the Minister rightly pointed out, the powers which he takes under Clause 5. I agree very much with what Deputy Lemass has said in his desire that there should be some controlling authority in the Dáil over the Minister before he embarks on the unlimited expenditure of public money which apparently he is empowered to expend under Clause 5.
I do not know whether Deputy Lemass is aware that Clause 5 is a very wide one. It says "The Minister may (as the case may be) do or join in doing on behalf of the State all or any of the following things, that is to say, develop and perfect such invention; take an assignment of any patent or of a share or interest in any patent theretofore or thereafter obtained for such invention; sell or lease either for or without valuable consideration any such patent; grant either with or without valuable consideration licences under any such patent and work any such patent commercially." There are two other provisoes. That gives the Minister exceedingly wide powers. Under this clause he is authorised to take the funds of the State for any or all of the purposes I have mentioned. I am not opposed to Governments dealing in patents where the patent concerned is, shall we say, of military or national importance. One would not object to the State embarking on such patents; but if the Minister is going to embark commercially on the ordinary patent I think it is a rather questionable procedure and I would like the Dáil to consider it in detail and to put on the Minister, before he embarks upon any such expenditure, large or small, the obligation of coming to this House, submitting the proposal to it, and getting its authority for any such expenditure. I think that that would be not only advisable but essential in order that the Dáil may control expenditure. Therefore, I hope that before the Committee Stage is reached some such clause, giving that power to the Dáil, will be put into the Bill in order that it may control such expenditure.
Might I draw the attention of Deputy Good to the effect of sub-section (2) of that section?
With all respect, sub-section (2) does not deal with the clause in exactly the way that Deputy Lemass outlined and in the way that I endeavoured to outline. The sub-section states:—
"all expenses incurred by a Minister under this section shall, to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance, be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas."
This is all very well. He can bring it to the knowledge of the Minister for Finance, but that does not mean that the Minister for Finance or the Minister concerned, is going to bring it to the knowledge of the Dáil.
Where are they going to get the money?
I am going to read this clause in conjunction with clause 5, where the Minister is empowered "to do any or all of the following things." He brings that to the knowledge of the Minister for Finance, gets his approval, and then proceeds to make the expenditure. That is the point. Doubtless the Minister may have an explanation for it, but it does appear to me that there is no obligation cast on either of the Ministers to come to the Dáil and have a scheme approved by the Dáil before any expenditure is incurred in connection with it.
I am, to some extent, between Deputy Good and Deputy Lemass in this matter. Deputy Good apparently is too cautious from my point of view. It seems to me that the intention is that the existing control in all these matters, of coming to the Dáil to get the finance necessary to do anything, if it is properly exercised, should be fully sufficient in this matter. Against that, the Minister might, in a moment of enthusiasm, commit himself to an expenditure and enter into an agreement which the Dáil would then have no option but to carry out. In relation to the development of inventions, you are certainly in a sphere which is highly speculative. You are either going to make a great deal of money or you are going merely to incur a great deal of expense.
While I am of opinion that the Minister should have power — in fact, frankly, I have always read the Act as that he had that power, and I take it that legal opinion has cast doubts upon the fullness of that power and that this clause has been introduced to make the thing absolutely water-tight — if there is any doubt about the matter and that this seeks to make it water-tight, then to that extent I approve of it. The real difficulty will be to get somewhere between a rigid attitude in this matter and an entirely free one. Say, for instance, that the Minister came to the Dáil and asked the Dáil to consider an invention which was only in the provisional patent stage, a stage which in the interests of the invention it might be desirable to keep for some considerable period — I mean, without disclosing the full nature of the claims and the full nature of the development — it might be during that stage that the aid, the assistance and the finances of the Minister might be necessary to the inventor to enable him to develop that. That would be a stage at which it would be certainly impossible for the Minister to come here and to disclose any useful particulars to the House which would enable it to decide whether or not it was getting value for the money. You can delay a provisional patent perhaps nearly two years by a certain process without disclosing it, and a good many patents which are of value are kept in that inchoate condition. While I think the Minister should not be encouraged in the idea that supervision of the House over what is largely speculative finance should be in any way withdrawn, he should not be so limited that he could not do what would be commercially done in relation to a matter of that kind. Broadly speaking, the Bill seems to be merely a series of corrigenda. We shall read the Bill in the light of the explanation which the Minister has given us, but two of the basic clauses in it — one in which he does ensure that residence in this country shall be a qualification for patent agents, and another in which we give the Minister power, if he does find some basic improvement which can be developed for the benefit of the State, to use it—seem to me to justify the Bill, and it should have our support.
When I asked the Minister a moment ago whether this payment he made was a speculative payment or an investment, I had in mind the fears expressed by Deputy Good as to giving the Minister rather extraordinary powers. At the same time I agree that it is very necessary that any invention in Ireland which there may be a possibility of making of great value to the country should be encouraged in every way. However, from the business point of view, it does not look sound that a Minister, for instance, who might be inclined to take risks would have practically unlimited power to make investments which would undoubtedly be of a speculative nature. No invention can be called safe until it has passed through all its stages in the Patent Office and has become a really working proposition. Until that time, money spent on its promotion cannot be regarded as a safe investment. It is money spent in speculation. Although from a business point of view it may be unsound, I would still be inclined to give the Minister that power, because undoubtedly in the past many inventions of great use to the country have been lost because capitalists in this country were too timid to back them financially, and a Minister with foresight enough and courage enough to back any promising investment should be encouraged.
If this Bill consisted of nothing else but one clause, and that clause 5, it should be welcomed by every section and by every class. To me the strongest appeal in this Bill is the fact that under that clause the needy or indigent inventor is helped. We know that in many cases where genius makes itself manifest through the inventor, it has been the case— many cases have come under my own notice — where because of the indigence or poverty of the inventor he had to take his invention and to market it in some country other than the Free State. I welcome the whole Bill, because of the fact that it will be possible, when it becomes operative, for any Irish citizen to approach the Minister concerned to get advice, and when, upon examination, the Minister is satisfied that the invention is such that it might be taken up as a business proposition, I think that in itself is a thing that should commend itself to all sections. For that reason I welcome this Bill on behalf of my colleagues.
I sincerely hope that the wide powers that are being asked for by the Minister under Section 5 of the Bill are not to be used in the fashion suggested by Deputy Anthony, that is that anybody who has a patent, even a good patent, or a good invention, could come along to the Minister for Industry and Commerce and put it up to him that he should go to the Dáil and ask that money should be found to capitalise that invention. I speak subject to the Minister's idea, but I hope that is not the Minister's idea. If I thought that what Deputy Anthony said was in the Minister's mind I would hesitate very much about giving these powers to the Minister. But I think the Minister has a little more sense. I suggest that these powers are being asked for by the Minister, to enable him or any other Minister, or Government, to take advantage of any invention or any patent that is of such a nature that it might be of general advantage to the country, or that it might help us to develop some industry that would be of general utility, advantage and profit to all sections of the community. I would not like to see the Department of Industry and Commerce turned into an industrial or an investment trust. Certainly, I think that is not its function, and I do not think that the Minister would be foolish enough to ask for powers to enable him to undertake such work. Anyone charged with the responsible position of Minister for Industry and Commerce, even in such a small State as this, in the Twenty-six Counties has, I take it, quite enough to do at his ordinary work, day in day out, without taking it on himself to examine such propositions as would undoubtedly come before him from inventors, patentees or patent agents, if he were to undertake to become an agent, as it would seem to me he would be, for an industrial or an investment trust, if he had such ideas as those Deputy Anthony had in mind. Undoubtedly very wide powers are sought by the Minister in this Bill. It is a further effort, if you like, in the nationalisation of industry. Perhaps some would call it socialisation.
Why not? I am not objecting to it in the least, but I want to underline the fact that that is being done. We adopted that principle last year in connection with the creameries. That was a big step in the same direction. Where that is being done for the benefit of the community as a whole, and for the benefit of the nation, I personally have no objection; in fact I welcome it, and I welcome the proposal of the Minister, that if he had any doubt in his mind as to the powers he had before, that these powers should be made definite and clear, and that he should get all the power necessary to enable him, or the Government he speaks for, to invest money in such inventions or patents, as would be likely to be of value in helping forward the industrial resurrection of this country. These powers are wide, important, and far-reaching, in many respects, but I give my support, and I think our Party will give him support on the understanding that these powers are to be used in a wide sense for the national advantage, for all sections of the community, and not to be used in the sense of a patent agent's office, or industrial trust, taking up any patent that may come along, and that may be a good speculation for an ordinary commercial or business matter or trust agency. I take it that is far from the mind of the Minister, and under these conditions I give what support I can to the ideas in the Bill.
So far as the Bill is concerned, I am in complete agreement with all the alterations which it is proposed to make in the Act of 1927, but I rather regret that the Minister did not make some attempt to deal with the position that at present exists under Section 19. I know that there are good reasons why that section was originally put into the Act. It is the section which provides that every application for a patent shall be accompanied, either by a declaration, first of all, as to whether a patent was applied for in Great Britain or not, and if not, compels an applicant to furnish a statutory declaration that a search has been made in one of the offices mentioned in the section through the records of the past fifty years in order to discover whether the invention has been anticipated in any way. Now, the effect of that section as it stands at the present moment is that it practically compels every inventor, if he wants to get a Free State patent, to take out a patent in Great Britain first. If he proceeds to take his patent out in the Free State he has imposed upon him the extra expense of a search, which is a very expensive matter from the point of view of the ordinary patent agent or of the inventor, but it is comparatively inexpensive if carried out by the office.
The anomaly which exists is this, that the patent office itself for its own purposes has to carry out, after it has received an application, an exactly similar search here. Obviously the search carried out by the patent office is of greater value than the search carried out by the patent agent. He starts off hoping he may discover nothing; he starts off with the wrong psychology, whereas the patent office examiner, knowing that he will be responsible afterwards if the search has not been thorough enough, searches in the proper spirit, anxious to discover everything that can be found. For that reason I think that the search by the patent agent is of comparatively little value, and I believe that sub-section (3) of Section 19 could be deleted without in any way weakening the effects of the Patent Act of 1927. I would draw the Minister's attention to that. I do not know how he could do it now, but I certainly think that sub-section (3) of Section 19 could be deleted without in any way weakening the effect of a Saorstát Eireann patent, because patents either originate here or originate abroad; either the invention is made here or it is made abroad. If the invention is patented in Great Britain, in Germany, or in America — and most of the patents which come for registration or validation here under Section 52 are taken out in one or other of these three countries — in each case a very strict search is made by the patent offices in these three countries and in each case the applicant for a patent here has to furnish a certified copy of the specification of the invention which was accepted by the office for the patent. Therefore the office here, even though it has not a staff at the present moment, would be justified in saying that if these patents had been granted by the British patent office so far as the last fifty years are concerned, or by the German and American patent offices so far as all known records are concerned, these inventions are not anticipated or have not previously been disclosed. For that reason I feel that the office, without weakening the Saorstát Eireann patent at all, could dispense with the search and the statutory declaration which is insisted on by sub-section (3) of Section 19, and I think the Minister ought to consider that.
I do not for a moment imagine that this particular invention that the Minister has referred to is the forerunner of a series of like activities on his part for the purpose of nationalising certain patents of importance to the community, and I do not think that the Minister would stand over it in that light himself. My attitude in the matter is that it may be necessary for the secrecy of the transaction, but after all, we should, if so, set aside a certain fund for the Minister to do with it what he is doing in this particular way. The Dáil would then know its ultimate liability, or the liability to which the Minister could proceed. I am in complete agreement with the idea of facilities being accorded to people in this country to invent certain things when, by virtue of the fact that they have not got capital, or the means of attracting capital, they might lose for themselves and for this country the benefits of such inventions. I think it would be far better if a certain fund were set aside for that purpose. We would then know our ultimate liability.
I would like the Minister to tell us how money spent in the manner in which this money is being spent on this invention will be accounted for. Will it be regarded as an advance from the Exchequer, or will it be regarded as actual money spent, and how will we be able to balance affairs and to know where we stand? What I would like to emphasise is that the Minister has been frank enough to show by his answer that although this £5,000 is being spent, it is by no means the limit of what will ultimately be spent on that invention. Personally I hesitate to say that I am in complete accord with his action, as I believe that the House should either have some idea as to how far it is going to be committed, or should know more about the thing. I would like the Minister to state how the money spent will be accounted for.
I would like to announce that I am setting my face very strongly against the point of view expressed by Deputy Anthony. This is not intended as an addition to or a part of the Patent Office, so that the Minister can be provided with powers leading to an avenue of money for the purpose of aiding indigent inventors in this country. In fact, I would like to regard this as a very exceptional transaction, and I say that as much for my own protection as for that of anybody else, because I know very well that if what Deputy Briscoe suggested was set up, even supposing we could normally, year by year, with a sub-head in some Vote, be provided with money to aid inventors, the life of any Minister for Industry and Commerce would be made miserable.
I thought the Minister referred to a particular kind of inventor.
You cannot close down inventors. If there is a certain sum of money set aside year by year to aid the Minister to take up inventions, his office is going to be overrun with all the inventors of the country — and they are numerous; in order to deal with those who think themselves inventors, even with regard to perpetual motion alone, a considerable amount of the Minister's time would have to be set aside. This should be regarded as a very exceptional thing. I would never like to approach the setting aside of a certain sum of money, because there would be as much difficulty in refusing money once the Vote was opened as there would be in getting money in the House, and it is rather difficult to get money in this House at times. I think the method I adopted is quite unusual, but I think it suits the purpose fairly well. I got money advanced to me from the Contingency Fund. That money has to be repaid to the Fund. Actually I hope that by the time that Vote comes to be inquired into in detail I will have a great many more details to give to the Public Accounts Committee, or to the Comptroller and Auditor-General, or to the Dáil, than I can give at the moment. I do not think that the thing will have to remain secret for anything like so long as that.
Deputy Good has asked twice whether there was anything of national importance about this. There is, I could go even so far as to say this, that the particular item in question tied itself up very definitely and very clearly with projected development in the country. But even though there had not been that link-up with the particular development in the country, if one could assume the same value about this thing under other circumstances as I felt on examination of it in the present circumstances, then I think an exceptional point of view might be taken with regard to it. The case was rather extraordinary. A young man thought he had a thing of great value. He was in fact on his way to make a sale of it to people outside the country, and then this thought struck him: that he had in fact been educated here at the expense of certain county council grants and that it was time the country got some return, and in a very generous and a very quixotic mood this gentleman came and offered his invention, and even offered to dispose of a majority share against himself. The amount of money is really inconsiderable — £5,000 — of which at least a couple of thousand pounds is being expended on the improving, the perfecting and the working out of this item from the commercial point of view. As far as fees are concerned, there would be not more than something in the nature of £3,000 expended, if there would be even that.
The Minister gets very wide powers under this proposal. Deputy Lemass asked if it would be possible for a Minister to sell or to give away the benefit which he has got for the State under the assignment, without any valuable consideration. While actually that right is given in so many words, if Deputies do not like that right to be given it is for them to move amendments. But we are really coming to a point when there will have to be a decision taken as to how this commercial development of particular types is going to be fostered in the country. We have the State Lands Act. Under the State Lands Act, when certain State property has to be leased, and it can only be leased, a very varied schedule of particulars has to be filled in and published. There is great security in that. One will say there is always sure to be an error, and if there is an error at all in the State Lands Act it will be on the side of the most conservative of business view points. In the state the country is in at the moment, in the most ruthless conservative business methods there is likely to be a certain amount of elasticity. I will be coming in with proposals with regard to mines and minerals, with regard to how leases for the development of mines and minerals, which happen to be State property, should be granted, and how the supervision of the Oireachtas, which is necessary under the Constitution, should be exercised. I would not propose at all to have anything as rigid as the Schedule to the State Lands Act. Here we have very considerable powers. As Deputy Good stated, the Minister may grant, with or without valuable consideration, licences under any such patent. He may even sell or lease without valuable consideration. In other words, the Minister may sell such patents without valuable consideration. In the end one comes to this: there is a question of responsibility.
The most sobering thing in life is to know clearly that whatever you are going to do you are going to be called on to answer for it quite soon and publicly. It is a very sobering thing to have the supervision not merely of this House, but of the world of Ireland's citizens over any such action as this. Really, in the end, one depends a great deal in these things on the sense of responsibility that was brought about by that very sober reflection that there is a jury to be gone before quite soon, and criticisms to be faced. Anybody in the position that I am in at the moment knows very well it is going to be much more in the way of criticism than anything else that has to be faced. If it is thought not to be wise to give these powers, I would like to see Deputy Flinn and Deputy Lemass approaching the middle point as between this and the State Lands Act. I think Deputy Lemass was distinctly drifting when he spoke of having a schedule tied up in some way to something approaching conditions under which lands under the State Lands Act are leased. That will arise again on the Committee Stage. It will arise in a much more important way. This is a very small transaction, a very exceptional case. The whole matter of the general leasing of property which belongs to the Government will come up more definitely in the mines and minerals legislation than in anything else. It is not right to say, as has been pointed out, that I have unlimited powers, particularly on the expenditure side. It is distinctly laid down here that all expenses incurred shall, to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance, be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas. The Minister for Finance is only brought in in this sense: prior to going to the Oireachtas there has to be sanction from the Minister for Finance obtained to the drawing up of a Vote — to the ascertainment of the amount — and even when the Minister for Finance has sanctioned that in the ordinary way, the Oireachtas has power to lessen that if it be so disposed, and until moneys are voted by the House by a special Vote the only possible fund out of which the Minister may draw is the fund out of which I drew in this particular case, that is, the Contingency Fund. The full amount of that fund is limited to £20,000, and there are many other calls than this in a year, so that it may be taken that the Minister is limited in his power of expenditure to something in the neighbourhood of £10,000.
I regard the whole transaction as a purely exceptional thing not to be entered into lightly. It will have to be explained in the fullest detail to the House. On account of its being such an exceptional transaction, a certain amount of silence and secrecy should be observed with regard to it. There is this reason: it is still in an undeveloped state, and to talk too much about it might lose to this country and the actual inventor the benefit of that individual's brain. I am not going to add to my own troubles by having it broadcasted that this is a country in which anyone who thinks he has an invention which is patentable may come along to my office and get a patent. I would hope that there is going to be no fund about which you can say you have that given by the Oireachtas for the purpose of aiding inventors. I do not want that position.
Deputy Goulding referred again to the question of whether this was an investment or a speculation. Of course, most opinions will differ on that. I agree with him that anything that is to be protected by a patent is most distinctly a speculation, until some type of cover, provisional or otherwise, has been obtained for it, and even when provisional protection has been obtained it does not cease to be speculation, because there is the question: "Is the particular item commercially workable? Is there a profit to be made out of it? Is there advantage, other than money profit, to be gained from it?" The Deputy admitted that he was speaking in the dark. I, at any rate, was advised by scientific people that there was sufficient good in this to warrant the helping of it along a few stages further. It has gone along certain stages. There is speculation in it. I say there is considerable investment in it, but before you get to the investment stage the speculation stage must have passed. There is this to be said about it, that it was not so much a speculation that there was no money to be had for it from outside the country on the part of a private individual, if the inventor had not offered it to the State first and if the State had not accepted it.
Deputy Briscoe referred also to a point raised on the Vote. I may answer that this £5,000 was not the limit. It is very difficult to be precise in this matter, because I should not like to confine myself to the £5,000. If some additional monies —a couple of hundred pounds—were required I would not say that I would not go beyond it. I will answer the Deputy this way. If the thing becomes a commercial success undoubtedly there will be required a big amount of money to have the thing launched on a big commercial scale. Whether the State is going into that company which is going to work on a commercial scale is another point. All the right I have is to control more than 50 per cent. of the shares in any company established for the future working of it. But I have not yet taken up a single share in the company for the commercial exploitation of this thing.
May I remind the Minister that the Minister takes power under Section 7 to form or to promote an incorporated company?
I do, and have already proceeded some length. At the moment a company is being formed for the launching of this thing. If the thing is successful there has to be envisaged a company on a fairly big scale. If the Government was going to come into that, and to stand on its right to take a majority holding of its shares, there would have to be a fair amount of capital put up. That certainly would not be included in the Contingency Fund. If that was going to happen there would have to be an application to the Oireachtas for a grant to enable the Government to put up that money. We are not very near that particular point at the moment, and when I say that £5,000 is now the limit it is in that sense. I think it is the limit as far as this particular transaction is concerned. I will not be ashamed to come before the Dáil and ask for another £1,000, £1,500 or £2,000. But, substantially, £5,000 marks the full limit of expenditure that is proposed at the moment. No one knows whether there may not be some diversion which will entail further secrecy as to the patent office and further protection of the patentee. The Dáil will see the end of this sometime; I cannot say when. I cannot see the end of it myself. If the course is considered so unwise that I should not have gone into this avenue at all, I am not pessimistic in that way. I think the thing is good, and that the circumstances would justify it.
I do say again that when the matter comes to be cleared up, on account of the peculiar nature of the whole transaction, there ought to be more details given of the whole origins of the thing than there would be about an ordinary transaction to mark that it is an exceptional thing and as a sort of danger signal to Ministers in the future that they should not embark lightly on these particular kinds of transactions. I did not embark lightly on this thing. I do not think it will be found that it was done in a light-hearted way. It was done after considerable inquiry and considerable process of examination in the preliminary stages. I cannot answer Deputy Lemass's point at the moment as to these particular powers that are given. I think powers are necessary. It may be that they have gone too far in the sense of selling or leasing, either with or without valuable consideration, or it may be that the Dáil would like to put in some limiting clause that before a sale was completed, particularly a sale without valuable consideration, if that can be called a sale at all, or a lease without valuable consideration, there should be some indication given to the House or to some Select Committee of the House. Amendments may be put down to that effect.
I would like people to bear in mind, if they put down amendments, that they are really advancing to the consideration of the question as to how mines and minerals or potential forms of energy grouped in Article 11 of the Constitution are hereafter going to be leased out to people and how supervision is going to be exercised over the granting of such leases or the working under such lease by the Oireachtas. This is really fore-shadowing a very much bigger question that lies behind mines and minerals. If amendments are being considered they should be considered not merely in the light of this small amendment to the Patent Bill but of the very much bigger question of the State property that is grouped under Article 11 of the Treaty. I will be prepared to discuss amendments, even limiting amendments, to Section 5 with people in that light, because I would like to have this as much a try out in the Mines and Minerals Bill as it is in the particular question of this amendment.
I want to say that I had no illusions whatever about this Bill, and I did not read anything in this Bill that the Minister did not intend. I want to be quite clear on one point. Assuming that an invention is brought under the notice of the Minister by a member of the Oireachtas — by a member of this House or of the Seanad — and that the Minister, having examined the proposition, decides that it is worth perfecting and developing, is it not a fact that he then is competent to do all such things as may be necessary, all these things that are mentioned from sub-section A to sub-section G or clause 5?
If he can get the money.
Yes. Does it not state very specifically that the Minister may take an assignment of any patent or of a share or interest in any patent theretofore or thereafter obtained for such invention? In other words, is the Ministry competent to take its share in the enterprise, if you like?
Yes. It is only the question of the exercise of the power.
I had no illusions, and welcomed it for that very reason. I do not believe the Minister would be expected to set up an office or bureau for every person who thought he was an inventor.
Did I understand the Minister aright when he stated that the investment of this £5,000 gives him an interest in half of the share capital?
More than half. As far as I understand the Deputy, I have actually got more than half the share capital of a particular company at the moment, and grafted on to that is the power to acquire, if I so like, more than half the share capital of any new company for the development of this thing.
Could the Minister state whether he is going to deal at some future date with Section 19 of the principal Act?
Section 19 is the section on which the principal Act is founded. Deputy MacEntee asked me to take away sub-section (3) of Section 19, and then went on to draw conclusions as regards searches that are made in England and Germany. If his amendment to Section 19 were directed to making an affidavit or document which is demanded in sub-section (3) of 19, not solely one from the English Patent Office, but, say, in a particular case from the German controller, that is one particular type of amendment. There will be a difficulty there from the office's point of view.
All I would say about Section 19 now is that it is the foundation of the whole Patent Office establishment. In the conditions which were facing us when the legislation was first drawn up actually a point which is in sub-section (3) of Section 19, allowing a search to be made not merely in London but in offices to be specified by the Controller, actually meaning our own offices, was put in in the last stage of the Second Patent Bill when it was in the Seanad. At that time it was reported to me that the Controller designate was satisfied that there were sufficient documents and books under his control to enable him to make a search and to say whether or not there was priority. Although the documents are there I am not sure at this moment, though the office has been established for some time, that these documents and volumes are sufficiently indexed and put in order that a search can easily be made. Eventually we will come to a stage when there will be a sufficient number of documents on their hands so that a search may be carried out here at the will of the Controller. But it is too early to begin to play about with Section 19, because it is the foundation of the whole legislation as it stands. Undoubtedly the situation is changed somewhat. We have better records here. They are in the process of being indexed and put in order. Probably we will come to the time when even for people who have taken out patents on the other side a search here will be necessary. I cannot make out whether the Deputy meant that or another point, that a certificate from Germany, United States or the British Controller should be accepted.
That a certified copy of the complete specification which was accepted by the Patent Offices of Germany, America or Great Britain should be accepted here instead of the statutory declaration made by the patent agent. In sub-section (3) of Section 19 there are two searches to be made. Obviously there is a search to be made by the patent agent in relation to which he must make a statutory declaration. After he has lodged his application, with his complete specification, the Patent Office, for its own protection, I presume also makes a search and examination of the application in relation to disclosure and that sort of thing.
It would seem, in view of that, that a search by the patent agent has now become unnecessary. As it was a source of great expense to the applicant applying for a patent, in the first instance, and, therefore, an impediment in the way of taking out a patent, the Office. I think, should dispense with the statutory declaration by the patent agent. I am not asking the Office to dispense with the search which makes for its own protection.
On this whole matter about Section 19, I may say that I have had the question of the amendment of the Act under consideration from the very day the Act was passed, and in fact prior to that, because it was realised that under the changing conditions of the Office here any legislation that was passed would have to be rather of a temporary nature even though it is included in this bulky form here. The reason for that is because the situation is changing from day to day. There have been people viewing what are the changes necessary, and if it had not been for the change in the headship of the Office I would probably be here now looking for much more radical changes in the whole patent legislation than I am at the moment. I am now only looking for certain urgent small changes to be made.
The question of Section 19 and the whole foundation of the Act was very definitely under consideration and was only interrupted by the departure of the Controller to another post. The new Controller has not had time to look into the situation. I know that the other points mentioned were under consideration, but I have not yet been advised that they can drop the particular ones relating to search to which the Deputy refers. He can rest assured that the question of the amendment to the Patent Act, even changing the whole foundation of it, is being considered. I cannot say that I am even within sight of being able to promise when that legislation will be introduced.