This Bill has been described as non-contentious and technical. I could think of a few other adjectives to describe it, such as turgid and boring. It is not the type of legislation on which one is likely to be accosted on a regular basis in the local public house or to have representations from constituents. However, it is necessary. It highlights the importance of intellectual property rights and their capacity to act as the economic engine which drives industrial development and creates job opportunities. It also gives us an opportunity to raise a number of issues.
The plethora of legislation which has been enacted in this House in the 1990s alone begs the question of whether the Patents Office, which I understand is now in Kilkenny, has the necessary staff to carry out the additional duties and responsibilities which are being foisted on it. I ask the Minister of State when replying to assure the House that that office has the financial and human resources to implement and administer the legislation and to deal with public inquiries on patents. There is an increasing awareness of the patent issue. This is a relatively innovative society and it would be regrettable if we could not capitalise on that as a result of inadequate staff or financial resources in the Patents Office.
Innovation is not a guarantee of economic prosperity. We have often met people with great ideas who cannot see them through to fruition. This raises another question about the potential of each invention. Are we adequately facilitating business angels and providing technical supports to bring on stream those innovations? We could look at the curriculum in our education system to see if we support innovation and if we are capable of matching it with the necessary entrepreneurial skills and financial resources. If we can do that, we will have a recipe for economic success.
Much legislation was passed in this area during the 1990s. The Patents Act was passed in 1992, the Trade Marks Act was passed in 1996 and the Intellectual Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act was passed in 1998. This section of the Department has been extremely busy and have come under pressure from events outside its control.
The raison d'être for this Bill is twofold, namely, the World Trade Organisation talks, the TRIPs agreement and the European patent convention. It highlights the growing importance of intellectual property. My understanding of the necessary trade off in terms of the World Trade Organisation is that the European Union placed considerable importance on intellectual property rights. However, in doing so it may have traded off certain areas of interest about which I have reservations.
It is clear from the raison d'être at European and world trade talks level that there is an attempt to harmonise the legal framework for patents. That is desirable because we are increasingly operating in a global village where an idea in Bangkok, if it is placed in an appropriate legal framework, can be exploited in Ballyvourney in my constituency to the benefit of the originator of the patent and the person capable of bringing it to economic reality. There is, therefore, a need to put in place a world-wide framework.
The history of this originated in the Industrial Revolution. The first attempt was the Paris Convention, 1883, which has been revised on several occasions. Approximately 157 countries have signed up to it. I am not sure if it has a legal framework but it is indicative of the growing importance of putting in place the kind of framework proposed in this legislation. The Patent Co-Operation Treaty, signed in Washington in 1970, was followed by the European Patent Convention in 1973, which established the office in Munich. A number of directives have arisen from that and I understand more are envisaged in the near future. The relevant section in the Minister of State's Department will be very busy dealing with these provisions. When replying to this debate I ask him to assure the House that the necessary resources will be provided, not only within his Department but in the Patents Office.
We have received a number of submissions by innovative people who have approached the Pat ents Office. It has been suggested that the modus operandi of the office is not user friendly and that considerable financial costs are incurred by those pursuing to a successful conclusion the issue of a patent through the office. This week the Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business received a presentation from the Inventors Association of Ireland. Given the shortcomings they perceive at the Patents Office they are seeking Exchequer funding to make up the shortfall. They also want to establish the title of Global Inventions Management Limited, a company that will be more user friendly and approachable than the Patents Office.
The association raises serious allegations because the inference is that people with very worthwhile ideas are being short changed by the Patents Office, that they find the technical and administrative side unhelpful and that excessive cost barriers are being put in their way. In view of this they say people are not pursuing the issue of a patent. While the Minster of State may not wish to comment on the proposal to establish Global Inventions Management Limited, of which I am sure he has received a proposal, it would be appropriate for him to comment on the issue of resources and on the need to make the Patents Office user friendly and approachable and on the need to ensure that it is not excessively expensive to have the issue of a patent successfully concluded.
The Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Treacy, raised the issue of exemptions to the rule of patentability. He outlined three permissible exemptions. First, where the commercial exploitation of same would be contrary to the public order or morality. That is understandable. Second, inventions concerning diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical methods for treatment of humans or animals may be exempted. I am not sure what is involved here. Perhaps the Minister of State will elaborate. Third, member countries may exclude from patentability plants and animals other than micro-organisms and what are essentially biological processes for the production of plants and animals other than non-biological and micro-biological processes. This is a potential minefield.
Legislators, both here and elsewhere, have been exposed as being inadequate in terms of keeping up with advances in genetic engineering and micro-biology. The Government has established a working committee to look at this. Recently there was much fanfare about the mapping of the human genome. I do not understand all of its potential uses, but would it be desirable for somebody to patent that and thereby secure exclusive rights to the commercial exploitation of the human genome? I am not sure if there is a vocabulary and lexicon associated with this area, or if these two issue are entirely related. Nevertheless, there is considerable public concern about the lack of an adequate legal framework within which this industry operates. Do the patent exemptions outlined by the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, apply to the human genome? Perhaps the Minister of State will clarify this.
This is by and large a technical Bill. There is unlikely to be any strong objection to it in principle. We will study it in greater detail before Committee Stage with a view to assisting the Minister of State in passing optimum legislation in this area.