Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Friday, 28 Jun 1929

Vol. 30 No. 16

In Committee on Finance. - Vote 61—Industrial and Commercial Property Registration Office.

I move:—

Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £12,751 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfidh chun bheith inioctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1930, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí na hOifige Clárathachta Maoine Tionnscail agus Tráchtála (Uimh. 16 de 1927).

That a sum not exceeding £12,751 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1930, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Industrial and Commercial Property Registration Office (No. 16 of 1927).

There is no change in this Vote requiring great elaboration at the moment. The receipts of the office last year, the first available year we have before us, amounted to something less than was estimated. They are now down to about £27,000, and it is expected it will be no less this year.

Mr. Byrne

I think the Minister should be congratulated that this Estimate is so satisfactory. There is a net decrease of £1,400 as compared with last year's Estimate in this Vote. There is also the significant fact that incoming receipts amount to over £35,000. These, in my opinion, are two healthy signs of the development of the State through this important office.

The £35,000 is an estimate.

Mr. Byrne

Estimated incoming receipts. Last year, in dealing with this Vote, it was generally agreed that this office was passing through a period of what might be called evolution. Certain anomalies that existed under the patent law were pointed out to this House. One was that in England a man able to complete and perfect his own design could obtain a patent for the sum of £5, while here, under the existing law, a patentee had, whether he liked it or not, whether capable of making his own design or not, and completing his own design, to obtain the services of a patent agent, which involved considerable expense, to which in England the patentee was not subject. Attention was also drawn to the fact that the same advantage was not derived from the reciprocity that existed between the English and Irish patent offices. The question was asked, and it did not receive an answer: did the Irish patentee receive the same reciprocal advantages as the English patentee?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle took the Chair.

Mr. Byrne

I wish to refer to the change in the controllership of this Department. I had the privilege of meeting the Comptroller of the Department last year, and, in my opinion, he was one of the finest men who could be at the head of affairs in this particular Department. He has unfortunately been taken away and replaced by another man. I do not wish to say one word of criticism, for it would be unjust to do so, of the new man; but I suggest that it was an unwise proceeding, having regard to the fact that he was such an expert, to change the last man until the patent law had developed to a more perfect state than at present.

It would be almost needless for me to say how important this office is to the future of this State. The patent of Mr. Drumm to which reference was made in this House would be just one instance to show how important this office can be in the development and in the progress of this country in the future. Under the existing law I would like to ask if any safeguard exists for the prevention of piracy. Piracy in patents is not an unknown thing. It is quite common in some countries, which are so expert in carrying out their piratical designs that they succeed in escaping being brought under the law for infringement. I remember one instance many years ago where an Irish inventor had obtained a patent for a cycle spoke and when he came to develop it he found that the Germans had anticipated him, working, as he afterwards learned, practically on his design.

I notice here under Sub-head D a subscription of £170 to the International Union for protection. I would like the Minister to say what the nature, scope and efficiency of that protection is that arises under this sub-head and if any other means exists internationally for the protection of patents than arise from the subscription to the International Union.

It is not my intention to criticise this Vote in any way, but I realise the very great importance of this particular Estimate. In dealing with the Vote last year the Minister made a definite promise to the House that he would appoint a committee to inquire into the existing patent law and to see if ways and means could be devised for the improvement of it. I merely ask the Minister why that committee has not been appointed and whether he will inform the House if he intends to appoint it and the approximate date at which it will begin to function.

The only protection against piracy that there is in any country is by patent and copyright and this industrial property law. We have a law. People who are ingenious enough may really filch the results of other people's brains, but if you take the matter— the Deputy described it as anticipation—there is no piracy. If, in fact, one man has got ahead of another, it is in fact the second man who has been the pirate.

Mr. Byrne

What I intended to convey was that by underhand methods the design had been obtained by German agents and used before the original patentee was able to develop his invention.

That either was or was not a breach of the law. If it was a breach of the law, then action should have been taken against the individual concerned. If it was not, it was either because a person had certain rights or because there was a loophole in the law. So far our law has not been tested to any extent,, and one does not know what loopholes may be in it; but it is a type of industrial property legislation which is more or less in common form right through the world. There are different methods of office treatment, but the legislation is pretty definitely the same, and there are international conventions regulating the whole thing. We have our laws. In addition to that we are in touch with the two unions mentioned in the sub-head, one dealing with such things as patents, trade marks, and designs, and the other with copyright generally. There is a convention which has certain regulations of law as it affects the nationals of all countries who are members of the Union. Being a member of the Union, we are protected, and in so far as protection is given here, we will be protected in the other countries that are members of the Union. We have no special arrangement with Great Britain, and, to my knowledge, Great Britain gets no special rights here that the national of any other country who is a member of a patent or copyright union would not, also, have here, and we have exactly the same rights in these other countries.

As to the Committee, I said last year that it was recognised that the legislation that was introduced in the first instance would have to undergo very many changes before we get a complete system; that, in fact, the Bill has taken two years to prepare, and, after being introduced, had eventually to be withdrawn and brought in in another form; that it suffered one very big change on the Report Stage in the Seanad, and that the only thing I could say to either the Seanad or this House was that we had to have some type of legislation governing industrial and commercial property, that we believed this would suit the circumstances of the moment, but that the situation was a changing one. I never pledged myself to appoint a Committee within any given time, and I never promised, and I would not promise, to appoint a Committee other than a Departmental Committee. I have had the intention for a long time to get the whole matter reconsidered in the light of certain things. There are one or two big things which have happened since. There has been a Copyright Union meeting held and certain arrangements made. Small changes have recently been introduced in our law arising out of this Convention. There are certain other bigger things which have happened, and other things which are happening.

Mr. Byrne

Does not the Copyright Bill which we have just passed prove that the whole question needs to be looked into?

The Copyright Bill which we have passed simply amends a defect which the court found in the law. That is not the sort of thing that I want the Committee to investigate. The Committee would never have their attention directed to that point, because the intention of the legislation at the time was to allow copyright subsisting prior to December, 1921, to run in the Free State and also patent and other rights. The attention of the Committee would never have been directed to that point, as it was believed that the intention was carried out. It has now been seen that it was not.

Mr. Byrne

If a copyright did not exist under the existing law, would it not be possible that a court would decide that a patent did not exist?

That is the sort of thing no Committee would ever be set up to look into. One sets out an intention. It is subjected to criticism as it goes through the two Houses. It is subjected to Departmental criticism and to the criticism of the draughtsman, and one assumes, until a court decision is given to the countrary, that the law is what was intended to be the law and what everybody thought it was. The only thing I would appoint a Committee to deal with is as to what changes in the system—not the principle—might now be rendered desirable by reason of certain changes that took place here. One of the biggest changes is that we have now, in our possession, complete references, and such a library' that we can have searches made. There is material certainly to allow for searches being made in the Patent Office here instead of in London, but I am not sure, even at this point, that all that material has been so indexed and classified that it is in order for patent agents easily to make searches. The Committee will get going soon, but I cannot say how soon as yet. It is going to be delayed by reason of the fact that a new controller has recently been appointed. It is quite clear that it is going to take him some little time to get his bearings, and I would not think of throwing him out of his ordinary line of work to discuss the bigger matter of how far the law requires adjustment to the new circumstances until he gets to know the old law and the present circumstances, and is in a position to give his judgment upon the matter.

Mr. Byrne

It will only be a Departmental Committee?

Completely and entirely. The only other comment that I would make is that I will give an opportunity to interested people to send in suggestions as to amendments in the law, but I take it that the best approach to any change would be to allow the people who are most intimately connected with the working of the present system to see whether there are any defects apparent and whether any improvement could be made. That Committee will be set up some time, but I cannot even say approximately when. It will depend on how soon the big rush of work on the Patent Office, in the beginning, and which is still continuing, ceases, and when we get into a more normal period, and how soon the new controller finds himself with a certain amount of leisure to devote to the sort of changes that may be found desirable.

Question put and agreed to.