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Wednesday, 8 June 1904

Mr WILKINSON (Moreton) - There is no doubt that the present Government have received legacies from their predecessors, and that we have to " pay the piper." T should like a little information from the Minister of Trade and Customs, with regard to the arrangements made under the Patents Act. As I understand the regulations, any one desiring to take out patent rights in the State of Victoria is at considerable advantage as compared with a person with a similar desire in any of the other States. The present state of affairs does not exhibit the true Federal spirit. While I recognise the desire of this and the preceding Government to keep down expenditure as much as possible, I am of opinion that to facilitate the taking out of patents would more than compensate for any expenditure incurred by appointing deputy officers in each of the States with whom applications for patents and specifications might be lodged. I am drawing attention to this matter, on behalf of a number of my constituents, who have been waiting for the passing of what thev thought would be a liberal Patents Act. The charges under the Act appear to be liberal, but there are certain restrictions which cannot be so described, and which give the whole of the advantage to Victoria, so long, at any rate, as the Seat of Government is within that State. I do not think that it would involve any very considerable extra expense to have deputy officers appointed in 'the capitals of each of the States, with whom intending patentees might lodge their applications, and to whom they might go for advice. They should also be able, at the branch offices, to look over the list of patents granted or applied for, that they might be able to decide whether they are introducing a novelty. In the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department we have the Postmaster-General, with his Secretary, established here, and we have Deputy Postmasters-General in each of the States. There is no reason why the same course should not be adopted in connexion with the Patent Office. Whilst we might have here an officer controlling the Patent Office who would be the head of the Department, I see no reason why there should not be established branch offices in the capitals of each of the States in the charge of Deputy Comptrollers of Patents for the convenience of inventors, and to enable them to avoid the expense of seeking the advice of costly patent attorneys. I received the regulations under the Act only this evening, but I have gone through them as carefully as I could in the time at my disposal, i find that, under them, in this State of Victoria, where the people have enjoyed years of protection, and have trained a great number of skilled mechanics, intending patentees are at a considerable advantage as compared with persons in the other States of the Commonwealth, who wish to secure patents, and they will have that advantage so long as the head office of the Patents Department is located in this city. That is not in accordance with the true Federal spirit, and I feel sure it was never intended when the Patents Act was passed. There are a number of persons in the electorate which I represent, and in that represented by the Minister for Trade and Customs, which has also a manufacturing centre, who have been waiting for the passage of a liberal Patents Act, in order that they might obtain patents for discoveries and inventions which they have been engaged in perfecting for years past. Their hopes were raised because they considered that this was a democratic Parliament, that would be prepared to place the humblest workman on a level with the capitalist, who in the past has been the only person in a position to secure a patent, because he has been able to command the money necessary. When, in the past, a mechanic invented a machine, or discovered an improvement upon a machine, he had to sell his discovery to. some one having the money to obtain a patent for it. It was held out that under the Commonwealth inventors would be able to patent their inventions throughout Australia for a merely nominal sum. I admit that the fees required under the Act are merely nominal ; but, if intending patentees must go through all the forms laid down in these regulations, the expense involved will not be nominal, and it will be beyond the reach of ordinary mechanics. We shall in consequence have made but very little advance on the past order of things. I am aware that the present Minister of Trade and Customs is not responsible for these regulations, and that he would have been more reasonable in his treatment of inventors. If a man in Western Australia desires to take out a patent, the only place where he can get full information is the city in which the Seat of Government is located. . He can get a certain amount of information in the branch office established in the capital of his State, but in order to get full information he must come here.

Mr Groom - Will not copies of all patents and specifications be filed in the branch offices?

Mr WILKINSON - That is so. But, supposing a man away at Port Darwin makes an important discovery, or invents a machine, and desires to patent it, he must travel round to Melbourne himself, or he must engage a patent attorney in this city, in order to secure a. patent.

Mr Groom - The illustration is an unfortunate one. That man's position is improved, because before the passing of the Federal Act he would have had to go round to Adelaide, and to take out patents in every Colony.

Mr WILKINSON - I admit that it is difficult to overcome anomalies in connexion with a large continent such as ours, but they should be reduced to a minimum. If we take Queensland, for example, the facilities required might be extended not only to Brisbane, the capital of the State, but also to' Rockhampton, the capital of the central district of Queensland, and to Townsville, the capital of the northern district. Very little extra expense would be involved in producing extra copies of patents and specifications. My contention is that the Patents Department would be reimbursed the expense involved, in providing the facilities I suggest, by the number of extra applications for patents that would be made.

I am aware that it must cost a little more to have deputy officers in other parts of the Commonwealth, who will be able to give all necessary information and receive applications; but numbers of men are to-day deterred from making application for patents because they must submit them through a patent attorney in Melbourne, or some agent, whose charges will probably be higher than the actual cost of obtaining the patents. In these circumstances they refrain from making applications, when, if they could transact their business in their own neighbourhood, they would patent their inventions. Some of the inventions and discoveries patented might appear very simple in themselves, but they might confer great benefit on the Common- wealth in the future. Inventions that in the past have appeared to be of very small moment have turned out to be of very great benefit, not only to the country in which they were invented, but to humanity at large. History furnishes innumerable instances of that kind. Those of us who advocated Federation - and no man in Australia was a more ardent advocate of it than I was - claimed that it would place every citizen of Australia on a common plane as Australians. We contended that it would break down the old distinction between the Victorian, the New South Welshman, the Queenslander, the South Australian, the Western Australian, and the Tasmanian. But I regret to say that the regulations under the Patents Act which have been framed not by the present Government, but, I presume, by the Government which preceded them, confer privileges and preferences upon those who happen to be in the immediate vicinity of the seat of the Federal Government for the time being. Ari objection has been raised to what I have suggested, on the score of cost. I think that I know the aspirations of the present Government as well as most men, and I believe thev hold that the monopolization of machinery and modern inventions has done a considerable amount of harm, and has brought a considerable amount of hardship on the toiling masses in every country in the world. If the operation of the Patents Act is to be restricted in the way in which these regulations appear to me to restrict it, we shall' emphasize, rather than remedy, that state of affairs. We shall enable the few to take advantage of all modern discoveries and inventions in Australia.- If we are to become a self-containing and self-sustaining community - and we have all the natural essentials - we must encourage, not only our primary, but our manufacturing industries. We have to keep pace with the other nations of the world. We have the intelligence, the mechanical ingenuity, and the-genius to enable us to do so, but a man who invents a new machine, or improves upon an old one, often smothers his discovery rather than hand it over for a few pounds to a man who will become a millionaire by securing a patent for it, while he remains practically a mendicant. I took no small part in the debates on the Patents Bill. I closely studied all the questions relating to the measure, and when it was before us, I understood that it was going to offer the most ample facilities for the humblest and poorest invent or to secure the fullest reward of his genius. It seems to me, however, that, if these regulations, which have been framed in a conservative interest, are permitted to remain, the Act will not do anything of the kind. I should like the Minister of Trade and Customs, who administers the Act, to be able- to assure the Committee to-night that every facility will be given, not necessarily in the capitals of the States, but in all the more important cities, to persons who desire to obtain information in regard to our Patents law. There should be agents in such cities prepared to supply all information, and to receive applications and specifications.

Mr Thomas - What, cost would that involve ?

Mr WILKINSON - The additional fees that would be secured would more than compensate the Government for the increased expenditure. Unless these branches are established many inventions will be suppressed, because inventors are often unable to bear the cost of making application to the head office, and of employing an attorney or agent to act for them in Melbourne. If branch offices existed in the more important towns and cities of the Commonwealth, at which a man might transact his business without the intervention of a third party, good results would follow. The cost of establishing these offices would be more than met by the increased fees in respect of applications for patents relating to discoveries that would never otherwise come to light. , There is only one other subject to which I desire to refer. I believe that the Defence Department has made a retrogressive step in deciding not to proceed with the formation of cadet corps.

Mr Groom - Have they arrived at that decision ?

Mr WILKINSON - I understand that they have, for in reply to certain correspondence recently addressed to the Department, it was stated that the matter would have to remain in abeyance for some time. From the inception of the Commonwealth Parliament, it has been held that we should have a citizen soldiery. That has been the keynote of our scheme for a defence system for the Commonwealth. If we are going to have a citizen soldiery, we must begin by drilling the boys attending primary schools, and the work must be continued at the higher schools. On reaching 18 years of age lads are able to join the rifle clubs, and as members' of those clubs, they will receive further instruction, and may subsequently be drafted into the militia. If this scheme were adopted, the more ardent spirits would doubtless leave the Militia to join the permanent Defence Forces, and in this way we should secure a complete system of defence.

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