The figures that point to a worrying drop in Irish innovation

Local patent filings halved after the crash – and have barely recovered.

By Paul O'Donoghue Reporter, Fora

DESPITE THE BOOMING economy, Irish patent filings have barely recovered since the crash – pointing to a worrying downturn in companies’ willingness to spend on innovation.

Some 440 new patent applications were filed to the Irish Patent Office (IPO) during 2015, an increase on the 321 new applications filed in 2014, according to new figures supplied to Fora.

However despite the annual increase, the number of applications was still less than half of what was seen just before the start of the recession.

Just over 1,000 patent applications were filed in the Irish office in 2008, the highest level since the turn of the century, however this number nosedived after the economic crash.

The number of patent filings is perceived to be important because it gives an indication of the number of indigenous companies that are trying to create new and innovative products.

Only 148 applications were granted in 2014, compared to the 214 approved in 2013 and 190 approved in 2012.

Innovation

The IPO suggested in a recent report that the lower number of patent applications it had received pointed towards a lack of research and development (R&D) among native Irish firms.

Although there has been a sharp increase in the number of patents filed by Irish resident companies to the European office over the same period, it said many of these applications may be from foreign-owned multinationals.

The issue of Ireland’s falling patent applications was highlighted in OECD’s 2013 economic survey of Ireland in which it said that SMEs lagged behind multinational companies on innovation.

The issue was again raised by the OECD in its 2015 report, when it noted that Ireland has “fewer young patenting firms, less public spending on R&D, and less industry-financed public R&D”.

patents graph Applications to the Irish Patents Office by year
Source: Irish Patents Office

In its 2014 annual report, the IPO said the OECD’s assessment appeared to be reflected in the “continuing low number of national patent filings”.

European applications up

Some 743 patent applications were filed by Irish residents to the European Patents Office (EPO) in 2015, a slight increase on the year before and almost twice as many as the number sent to the IPO.

EPO-approved patents cover 38 states across Europe. Although the patent must be validated in each country once granted, European approval centralises the process, reducing application and administration costs.

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However, the process is more expensive: a European application costs about €1,400 compared to about €140 for an Irish one.

In its 2014 annual report, the IPO added that many of the multinationals that did their R&D in Ireland didn’t file patents in either the Republic or in Europe.

Trend towards Europe

Speaking to Fora, Donal M Kelly, a European Patent Attorney and partner at intellectual property specialists FRKelly, agreed there was a trend towards more Irish applications filing for patents in Europe

“Applicants may pick the European route if they are export led and are selling into a large amount of foreign markets,” he said.

When asked about the Irish patent decline, a Department of Jobs spokeswoman pointed Fora to comments by then-business minister Ged Nash in November. He told the Dáil the financial crash had “led many companies to adapt their innovation strategies with a consequent decline in patent filings”.

The government has included plans for raising intellectual property awareness and capacity in several strategies, including its most-recent ‘action plan for jobs’.

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