Ireland has a poor patenting record despite the presence of significant units of big American companies — the Government says a) a large proportion of foreign-owned firms (54%) are not R&D active b) foreign-owned firms accounted for 66.6% of total R&D expenditure in 2012 c) 13% of foreign-owned firms (107 firms), each spending over €2m, accounted for 88% of R&D spending in the foreign-owned sector in 2012 — but significant research is not carried out in Ireland. The annual data on patenting from the Irish Patents Office is ignored by the media with the exception of Finfacts because the agency does not issue a press release to announce the publication of its annual report. This is rare for an Irish public agency and clearly reflects the desire of Richard Bruton, enterprise, jobs and innovation minister, to keep inconvenient news under wraps — some time in 2016, Irish voters will be asked to amend the Constitution to approve a Unitary Patent Court that will require the transfer of some Irish court powers.


The report says national full term (20 years) patent filings received during 2014 were down by 12.5% on 2013 (from 135 to 118) while the number of short term (10 years) patent applications filed were down 20% on 2013 (from 255 to 203).

The key data are on filing of international patents 1) applications for Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) patents where the first application is an Irish resident relate to Irish or foreign citizens or Irish or foreign-owned companies operating in Ireland or Irish government agencies, institutes or third-level institutions. By filing one international patent application under the PCT, applicants can simultaneously seek protection for an invention in up to 148 countries throughout the world. 2) at the European Patent Office which covers 38 European countries.

PCT applications were at 440 in 2014 compared with 432 in 2013 and 422 in 2016.

Applications to the European Patent Office (EPO) were at 608 in 2014 compared with 566 in 2013 and 373 in 2005. Patent grants were at 118 in 2005 and 254 in 2014 according to EPO data.

The Irish Patents Office report says there were 709 filings at the EPO in 2014 down from 765 in 2010.

According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), Trinity College, the University of Dublin, was the top PCT patent filer in 2013; of the top 10 filers, there are 5 foreign-owned firms (including 2 that are Irish-only for tax purposes) and 5 Irish third level institutions. There are no top 50 exporters among them.

The Irish patent level is low despite the large presence of significant units of some of America's biggest companies. Patent quality is not reflected in a count of applications but it is still an important trend indicator of a country's intellectual property (IP) capital.

Switzerland, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark had the highest per capita level of applications in Europe in 2014 and Ireland had a 12th ranking with a ratio of 126 per million — close to the EU average of 131.

The 38 member states of the European Patent Organisation consolidated their share of 35% of the total filings at the EPO last year. Filings from Germany accounted for 11%, followed by France (5%), Switzerland and the Netherlands (3% each), the UK, Sweden and Italy (2% each). As in previous years, around two-thirds of the filings at the EPO in 2014 were from non-European countries. The US accounted for the largest share with 26%, followed by Japan (18%), China (9%) and Korea (6%).

European Patent Office data 2014 - per million people<<<<<Click image: Gerard Barrett, controller of the Irish Patents Office commented: "even though the R&D which has given rise to the IP may have been carried out in Ireland, the applications might not necessarily be recorded as filings by Irish resident firms."

According to Irish government data, foreign-owned firms accounted for 66.6% of total R&D expenditure in 2012 but a large proportion of foreign-owned firms (54%) are not R&D active.

Around 300 firms account for almost 70% of total R&D expenditure in 2012. Only 13% of foreign-owned firms (107 firms), each spending over €2m, account for 88% of R&D spending in the foreign-owned sector in 2012.

Exports from indigenous enterprises are largely from low R&D-intensive and non-R&D active sectors. The top three exporting sectors for indigenous firms — Food, Drink & Tobacco, Other Traditional Manufacturing, and Business Services — account for around two thirds of sales and exports of Irish-owned State agency-supported firms. Together, however, these three sectors account for only 28% of R&D expenditure in Irish-owned firms.

About half of the staff in the foreign-firm dominant ICT (Information and Communications Technology) sector work in administration.

Unitary Patent

The European Commission says the European unitary patent that was agreed in 2012 is a legal title that will provide uniform protection across 25 EU countries on a one-stop-shop basis, providing huge cost advantages and reducing administrative burdens. The package will also set up a Unified Patent Court that will offer a single, specialised patent jurisdiction.

The benefits of unitary patent protection for Europe

Unitary patent protection will make it possible for inventors (individuals, companies or institutions) to protect their invention in 25 EU countries (Spain and Italy did not approve as the official languages are limited to English, German and French) by submitting a single patent application. After the patent is granted, there will be no need to validate it in each country.

Unitary patent protection will make the existing European system simpler and less expensive for inventors. It will end complex validation requirements and drastically limit expensive translation requirements in participating countries. Consequently, it is expected to stimulate research, development and investment in innovation, helping to boost growth in the EU.

Unitary patent protection will also protect inventions better than the current system. Due to the prohibitive costs involved in the national validation of European patents, many inventors currently only patent their inventions in a handful of countries. This makes inventions less valuable as the lack of protection in other countries allows them to be copied more easily.

The patent package: Unitary patent protection and the Unified Patent Court

In 2012, EU countries and the European Parliament agreed on the ‘patent package’ – a legislative initiative consisting of two regulations and an international agreement that lay the ground for the creation of unitary patent protection in the EU.

The package consists of:

  • a Regulation creating a European patent with unitary effect ('unitary patent');
  • a Regulation establishing a language regime applicable to the unitary patent;
  • an Agreement between EU countries to set up a single and specialised patent jurisdiction (the 'Unified Patent Court').

The regulations implement enhanced cooperation in the creation of unitary patent protection. All EU countries will participate in this enhanced cooperation except for Spain, Italy and Croatia.

Following the adoption of the two Regulations in December 2012, the contracting countries, except for Poland but with the addition of Italy, proceeded with the signature of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court. The process for the ratification of the agreement is ongoing. The unified jurisdiction will deal with disputes relating to classical European and unitary patents, for which it will have exclusive jurisdiction.

The package will come into effect when 13 countries have ratified the Unified Patent Court agreement.

European Patent Office information — the EPO handles patenting in 38 European countries.

Pic above shows Richard Bruton, enterprise minister, writing on the wall at the Dublin office of Dogpatch Labs, a venture capital firm, May 27, 2014. Enda Kenny, taoiseach,  is on the right.