Is it safe?

As all UK patent attorneys will know, getting an order under section 22 is a complete pain. Not quite as bad as dentistry without anaesthetics, but not far off and, for the applicant, somewhat more expensive. Unfortunately it is not always easy to know what qualifies as "being information the publication of which might be prejudicial to national security" (according to s22(1)), so the general rule is either to wait six weeks after filing a UK patent application to find out if a order has been made or, if a first filing outside the UK is required and there is no time to do anything else, to send a copy of your application to the mysterious Room GR70 and ask if it is safe to file it abroad without risking being put in prison for up to two years (s22(9)).

The UK-IPO have now issued some guidance on what might constitute information that could risk a section 22 order being made. Along with the obvious ones like nuclear bombs and chemical weapons, however, there are quite a few categories in which apparently innocuous technology could conceivably fall foul of a secrecy order. The IPKat wonders whether an application directed to encryption, electronics or aerials (to take just a few examples from the list, all of which this Kat has drafted applications to without any thought to a secrecy order being relevant) would fall foul if no mention were to be made of a military application. If encryption is useful, it it not also useful militarily? As a result, in the IPKat's view, this list does not really provide any help at all, and seems likely to result in more confusion for patent attorneys and more work for those in Room GR70. If anyone has any properly useful guidance about what to look out for, could they please let the IPKat and his readers know?
Is it safe? Is it safe? Reviewed by David Pearce on Tuesday, July 28, 2009 Rating: 5


  1. Reminds me of Faulty Towers classic comment "Don't mention the war !".

    Perhaps, I should just inundate GR70 with applications for handheld torches, claiming that they are "directed energy devices"...

  2. Not sure if it's directly on point, but I worked in the Classification Library of the UK Patent Office in the early 1990s. Every week, I used to receive a set of new law abstracts with, from time to time, abridgements of old law patents which had been declassified. I have to say that by looking at the latter I couldn't see any obvious consistent pattern, other than perhaps the fact that they tended to fall in the "F2*" headings of the UK Key (weapons and ammunition are in F3A and F3C). Accordingly, it is possible to get an idea of what the predecessor of Room GR70 (on the third floor of State House) thought worth keeping secret in the late 1970s by looking at the 1949 Act patents with the highest numbers.

  3. The most bizarre "secrecy" declassification was with GB 1,346,409 and 1,346,419. Their content was so secret that the classsifiers were not "in the loop". Ten months after publication they were reclassified and disapppeared from the SRIS shelves and other public patent collections in the UK. Many industrial libraries refused to return their copies and those sent worldwide through patent document exchange schemes continued to be available. If either patent was requested from the Patent Office you were told the documents did not exist. However requests to the USPTO libtrary were met on payment of the usual fee. The cause of the reclassification was an article in the Sunday Times explaining what the patents related to.

  4. Perhaps, the list of dual-use items which are subject to export control in the EU could serve as a useful reference:

  5. In Israel, we have a similar clause. Applications go to the Ministry of Defense (literally Ministry of Security) and if they don't restrict it, then three months later, applicant can go abroad.

    Usually it is fairly obvious to see why a clerk at the patent office passed the application on to the Defence Ministry. I've had it happen a few times, most recently for a device for loading rounds into pistol clips - not exactly the technology that wins wars, but still to do with guns.

    In one instance, an application to do with data transmission on the Internet was restricted, and I thought that the clerk at the patent office was responding to the term "data security" on the first page. When eventually we were allowed to file abroad, the application was restricted in the United States - despite the application being filed in the US under Paris! Perhaps there was something of military importance that neither I, nor applicant were aware of.


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