This Bill is probably the most complicated, as well as the most technical, that has yet appeared before this House. I am afraid that no member of the House, without a considerable amount of legal and technical knowledge, could possibly follow and understand the 188 clauses of this Bill. It was for that reason that the original Bill of 1925, at the very early stage, was referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses for the purpose of considering it and making recommendations—a very wide reference to this Committee of the two Houses. The Committee held prolonged sittings in the months from February to June last year. These sittings resulted in an elaborate report, which recommended so many amendments in the original Bill of 1925 that the Government thought it better to scrap that original Bill and to introduce the present Bill of 1926.
Now all the amendments which were suggested by that Joint Committee, after these prolonged sittings, most of them the result of further consideration by the Minister and those advising him on the very complicated problems that this Bill involves, have been adopted and appear in the present Bill. In addition to amendments which the Joint Committee definitely suggested should be put into the new Bill, they made some general recommendations which will be found at the end of their report. All those recommendations, except, I think, one in reference to the publication in the Official Gazette, which was found to be impossible, have been duly considered and, I think, with one exception, they appear in the present Bill.
As I was Chairman of the Joint Committee, it occurred to me that it might be useful if I stated very shortly the object and scope of this Bill, so that the Seanad will be able to get a general idea of the Bill, the Second Reading of which they are now asked to pass.
This Bill deals with the protection of three kinds of industrial and commercial property. It deals with patents for inventions, with designs and trade marks, and with copyright. Now, the protection which British Statute Law gave to these three kinds of industrial and commercial property required a great deal of elaborate administrative machinery. In order to provide for the granting of patents there had to be a patent office manned by a large body of thoroughly trained experts who had to decide on the validity of the patent; whether the patent was really an invention; whether that invention was quite new or had been anticipated, and a number of technical questions of that kind. Designs and trade marks, also, depended upon a registry. Their validity depended and the right to bring an action for their infringement depended on their being on a register. That involved another Government Department also, with highly and technically trained officials. Then there was also a register of copyright. Copyright is not dependent for its existence on registration, because it is a common law right, but the right to bring actions for infringements of copyright depends upon the copyright being registered.
When the Free State was established we took over, practically, the whole of the statute law that applied to these three forms of commercial and industrial property, but naturally we took over no part of the administrative machinery. Accordingly, between the 6th December, 1921, that is the date of the Treaty, and the present time, any inventor of a patent in the Free State had no patent for his invention. There was no Patent Office in the Free State. No new design or trade mark could be registered, and no author could register his copyright for the purpose of bringing an action if his copyright was infringed. Therefore, the main object of the Bill was to set up in this country the necessary machinery for the protection of the three kinds of property, and this involved, in the case of these three kinds of property, very elaborate provisions which had to be enacted in an Act of the Oireachtas and could not be left to mere rules.
More than nine-tenths of this long Bill of 188 sections is taken up with those provisions for providing the machinery which is to protect these three kinds of commercial and industrial property. But there was another and very difficult problem which had to be solved in this Bill. There was the period between the 6th December, 1921, and the present time, during which there was no machinery here for the protection of this kind of property, but, during which, invention went on, trade marks and designs were adopted, and books were written, and it would be most unfair to the authors of these inventions, and persons who adopted these trade marks, and authors who had written books, if their rights in that kind of property that came into being, in this period between the 6th December and the present time, could not be protected, and protected in such a way as to carry their rights back. Roughly, that was the second great problem that had to be solved by this Bill, and roughly what the Bill does is: it puts the owners of these three kinds of property in the same position as if there had been machinery in the Free State during this period.
I shall take one or two examples in the case of patents. There were a number of people—I forget the exact number, but perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us—who applied to the Ministry here in this period and gave notice that they had inventions that they desired to patent. They made the only kind of application that they could in a country where there was no machinery for doing it. That is one class of person that needs to be protected. They are protected specially in Section 12, sub-section (1). Everybody who made application of this kind will get a patent for his invention, and it will date back to the date that he made his application, and it will be deemed as from that time to have been a valid patent under the Act. Then during that interval a number of persons took out patents in the Colonies, the Dominions, and in foreign countries, and it is, of course, important for them that they should be able to get valid patents in this country and that their publication in other countries will not be anticipated in this country so as to block their rights.
They are provided for in the same way. They get a year during which they have to make application as soon as our register, our patent office and general controller's register, are set up. During that year they may make application, and those patentees in the Dominions and in foreign countries will also get the advantage of having their patents dated back. The validity of their patent during this period will be established and they will be entitled to bring action if their patents were infringed in this country during that period. The only other case that I think I should mention is the case of British patents. Under this Bill, all British patents which were in existence before the commencement of the Act—there will have to be a date fixed for the commencement of the Act— will be taken over here and they will be dated back to the date on which the original application for the grant was made in England. Similar provisions are made for preserving the rights of people who adopted designs and trade marks in that period. So far as copyright is concerned, it was not necessary for the writer to make any provision for that period, because the right exists at common law, but the right of action will be given as soon as the register is set up. If they register their copyright they will be able to bring action if the copyright were infringed in the interval between 6th December, 1921, and the passing of the Act.
I do not think there is any other matter I need call attention to except this: There were some questions raised on the subject of copyright with reference to certain provisions in the Bill which it was feared would have prevented our membership of the International Copyright Convention and also the Commonwealth Convention. There were certain provisions with reference to registration of certain kinds of designs that it was feared would prevent us having the advantage of these Conventions. These questions have been gone into very fully, and the sections have been altered in such a way as to provide that that will not happen. I am myself personally satisfied that the sections of the Bill as they now stand are absolutely safe in that regard and that they do not offend in any way against these Conventions. However, that is my own personal view, and when the Bill is in Committee I think the Seanad should satisfy itself that these provisions are effective for the purpose of keeping us within these Conventions. It is most important that we should do so. I hope the Bill will receive a Second Reading.