Intellectual Property (IP) in Ireland
Over the last 20 years we have seen enormous changes in our day-to-day lives that are equivalent in their revolutionary effect to those seen by previous generations. Whilst they lived through an Industrial Revolution, we are experiencing the Information Revolution. The way business is now conducted is very different to that seen 20 years ago. Who then could have foreseen the Internet as it exists today? Who could have foreseen that some of the wealthiest businesses in the world would rely upon intellectual property rights (IPR's) rather than tangible assets such as land, steel, coal or oil? Who could have predicted that Ireland would be seen as an up and-coming knowledge based economy? Nowadays, whatever your interest or intended area of operation, it is likely that intellectual property rights - either your own or those of competitors - will impinge upon your activities.
Intellectual property (IP) rights take many forms and include patents for inventions, trade marks, design registration and copyright. Intellectual property can impact on almost every aspect of a business from sales to marketing, raising finance to new product development and quite often people establishing new companies or existing companies may ignore investigating patenting an invention or registering a trade mark or design until it is to late. They may therefore fail to recognise or exploit a valuable asset. It is estimated that approx. 80% of all technical knowledge is to be found in patent literature. As a consequence published patent documents represent an almost inexhaustible source of information to be ignored at one's peril. Take the case of an engineering business, which developed a new process of manufacture using metal wiring back in the 1990's. A considerable amount of man-hours were spent on the development of this product with a cost of nearly €1million. Once the process had been perfected the company decided to apply for a patent. The first thing the patent agent engaged to prosecute the application did was to carry out a patent search. Unfortunately he found a patent in the U.S. for exactly the same process. The company had therefore spent a considerable amount of money developing a process that could have been discovered if someone had thought to undertake a search of patent documents in the relevant field of technology. Today, the Internet provides the portal through which millions of patent documents from all over the world can be searched free of charge! Intellectual property can be a vital ingredient in securing the commercial success of any company wishing to stay ahead of the field in creating innovative new products, expanding market share as well as generating customer and brand loyalty. Leaving aside the value of its patent and design portfolio, Nokia's brand value (protected by trade marks) was reckoned to be in excess of 24 billion dollars in 2004 (source: Business Week Magazine). Trade marks and brands such as Nokia have worldwide recognition. However, many small companies believe that they do not own any intellectual property because they do not recognise it, but all companies have at least one trade mark - their name even if it is not registered as a trade mark. It is very much in the interests of even the smallest company or individual innovator or entrepreneur to make best use of their intangible assets by investigating the opportunities offered by the intellectual property system.
The Patents Office produces an annual reports which contains various statistical data relating to the activities in the area of Patent applications and grants, Trade Marks applications and registrations, and Design applications and registrations. At the end of 2004 there were some 63,316 patents and 95,649 trade marks in force in Ireland.
The Patents Office publishes on a fortnightly Journal called the Patent Office Journal. This journal contains information regarding recent applications, registrations, granted patents and provides an insight into the latest inventions, designs and trade marks.