A story from the late 1990's resurfaces...
We no longer hear about all the patent owners who've been stuffed by the MOD because their work was classified and suppressed by the state on 'National Security' grounds.
They've had cause for complaint - and no compensation from HMG - when overseas companies have independently invented and manufactured widgets that use the same idea. Needless to say, the MoD has prevented them from challenging the patents by citing 'Prior Art' buried in files marked 'classified'.
All in all, very shabby treatment and an excellent reason to file your patents in another EU jurisdiction.
For obvious reasons, there are no published statistics.
Why do I mention this today? Many of these ideas weren't suppressed and forgotten: they were used in real weapons systems - Otto Frisch and his classified patent on the chain reaction being the poster child. But an awful lot of it is rumoured to related to telecomms and electronic surveillance.
Of course, the large patent-owners are mainly the existing defence contractors, and there's always been a quiet quid pro quo for classifying their discoveries: they get to build the secret widgets on contracts without competitive tenders and all external scrutiny is suppressed by the Official Secrets Act. It's the small inventors who've been screwed, and the current state of British Patent law is that enforcing a patent in the courts is a game for millionaires: Official Secrecy and the dead hand of HMG is just another flavour of being screwed.
But the small players' discoveries were all investigated and documented by the organisation that is now Qinetiq - who else do you think vetted the original applications? Which places the company in an interesting position - they've built some of these widgets and passed them on to GCHQ, among others, knowing full well that the original inventors are prevented from claiming a licence fee or even knowing about it.
Or rather, they *were* prevented. Qinetiq is now a public company and some of this is going to come to light.
Also, we now know from this recent article that Qinetiq has passed on ideas to the US, where the DoD and the NSA's tame contractors have built the widgets at Pentagon Cost-Plus mark-ups: a public-information request in the USA could yield some interesting legal claims. So taking the technology across the Atlantic gives the struggling British Boffin a chance to relocate his garden shed to Monaco or the Cayman Islands with a little bit of IP blackmail: Her Majesty's Government can't suppress a threat to make a prior art claim in the USA...Can they?