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Wednesday, 5 May 1915

Sir ROBERT BEST (Kooyong) . - I am at a disadvantage in not having heard the remarks of the AttorneyGeneral, though I did hear a portion of the speech of the honorable member for Flinders. From a legal stand-point, there is not the slightest doubt that the honorable member for Flinders has established a very strong position, indeed - an almost unassailable position. But if we depart from the strict legal aspect, and' put aside for the moment the technical objection to the introduction of the penal terms, and regard the matter from a somewhat more practical point of view, I must say that I am not prepared to condemn, in the same wholesale fashion, the provisions of the Bill as they appear. I admit that the terms of the Bill indicate a better title for the licensee than that of the original patentee, and that strikes one at first as somewhat anomalous. But we have to distinguish between the two, in the emergency that has arisen. The original German patentee holds a monopoly, and has data and material at his disposal, in order to establish his title, that the licensee could not hope to have. The object of our legislation is to induce our own people, in the case of large and valuable patents, to invest, possibly, large sums of money, with a view to giving the Commonwealth the benefit of the patent. If the licensee is to be harassed, and doubts thrown on his title, we are placing him in a very serious position.

Sir William Irvine - Does the honorable member wish the Crown to grant the licensee a new monopoly for an old invention ?

Sir ROBERT BEST - I even go so far as to say, in the circumstances, that that might be justifiable, in order to insure that we are not deprived of the benefits of the patent. Some assurance should be given to the Commonwealth citizen who invests his capital in the production of the commodity.

Mr Watt - Would you pay that price for making good all patents now bad?

Sir ROBERT BEST - I am not referring to all patents, but valuable German monopolies. It is from the practical, or public-policy, stand-point that I wish to deal with the question. First of all, we desire to encourage the investment of capital in a particular patent which we believe to be a good one; and a man, before he invests his money, desires to know that he is reasonably secure. This is either a good or a bad policy. If it is a good policy in the interests of the public, we should encourage the production in every way, and, practically, give to the licensee a new patent in order to encourage him to invest his capital, establish an industry, and give the public the benefit of the patented article.

Sir William Irvine - Would the honorable member give encouragement in the form of a monopoly in the case of an invention as old as the hills?

Sir ROBERT BEST - Let us start from the position that the German patentee has already got his monopoly, and that that monopoly has -not, up to date, been assailed. We will take it that the product of the monopoly is good and desirable for Australia; and we should, I submit, provide a scheme of protection for the establishment of a valuable industry, and thus give the public the benefit of the product, and workers the benefit of employment. We can only hope that people will invest their money in this way if we give some assurance as to the title; and, if necessary, we should even be prepared to go as far as I have suggested. To all intents and purposes the licensee should get a new patent; and that is a position we can justify from the public stand-point. As a matter of public policy, we give the licensee protection in order to bring about that production which previously was exclusively vested in the German patentee, and probably only known in the form of German imports.

Mr Brennan - Why does the honorable member wish to give the licensee more protection than we give to one of our own patentees?

Sir ROBERT BEST - I start from the stand-point that, first of all, the German patentee has had a monopoly, and that the product of the patent is desirable for Australia. Therefore, we tell our capitalists that we will give them some assurance as to title, inasmuch as they are placed at a serious disadvantage in not being able to establish a title to the original patent in the absence of the. original material. Sometimes we give protection by means of the Tariff, but in the particular case before us, we give protection by an assurance of title.

Mr Fenton - Sometimes we give protection by means of a bonus.

Sir ROBERT BEST - That is so; and, after all, the licence is only a different form of protection in order that the industry may be- encouraged, and the benefits of it enjoyed by the Commonwealth. From a public policy point of view, there is much to be said in favour of the Bill as it is presented. I do not attempt to justify the Bill from a technical or legal stand-point; but, with a view to the protection and creation of an industry, I am quite prepared to support the terms of the measure.

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