The European Commission released the annual report on research and innovation across the EU in June. This report looks at innovation by analysing various factors, such as people skills, financial investment, SME activity, and resulting employment. Innovation performance is considered across the EU as a whole and also for each individual member state.
There have been some positive reflections on this report in the mainstream media. On closer inspection however the end of year report for Ireland is far from satisfactory. Ireland does come out overall with a score for innovation above the EU average, but only just. The ranking puts Ireland in 11th place in the EU behind all of the Nordic countries, Germany, France, the Benelux countries, and even Estonia. And the position in Ireland is getting worse – the score for Ireland has been falling steadily for the last 3 years.
We, in Ireland, may be satisfied with the results in some areas. The number of people in Ireland with a PhD or 3rd level education is extremely high. Activity from SMEs involved in innovation and collaboration is similarly strong.
Why then are we not doing well when it comes to research and innovation in Ireland? The report highlights very low levels of government support for R&D, and associated shortcomings when it comes to business expenditure on R&D. As an intellectual property (IP) practitioner however, the factor that particularly caught my attention was the poor performance when it comes to IP assets. The report looked at how many patents, trade marks, and industrial designs originated in Ireland and the results are certainly disappointing. For all of these IP rights, Ireland is considerably below the EU average, and especially so in relation to new patent applications. When it comes to IP, Ireland lags way behind in 20th place out of 27 EU states considered.
The answer to improving our IP position will require a multi-faceted approach, with a first step being to enhance education around IP. The gap in IP perception and IP awareness in Ireland was highlighted in another recent EU report – this time from the EU IP Office in November 2020. This report highlights that when it comes to an understanding of the general concepts of IP, surveys showed that Irish people were again significantly below the EU average. This negative trend of IP in Ireland is unfortunately repeated here again. In this case Ireland is even further behind coming 23rd out of 27 member states surveyed. The willingness to respect other people’s IP is similarly lacking in Ireland. Irish people responding to the surveys admitted buying counterfeit goods or accessing pirated content online significantly more frequently than the average in the EU.
In the IP community in Ireland, we all have a role to play to improve the understanding of IP, both to respect the IP rights of third parties and to appreciate the economic benefits associated with IP. Patents and other IP rights may be commercially exploited in a variety of ways depending on the relevant circumstances of a business. For example, to create a market monopoly to exclude competitors, or to attract investment from venture capital, or to license the IP to generate royalty revenues, or as a defensive tool for leverage in cross-licensing. These actions to improve R&D and innovation in Ireland fall on all of us to implement – government bodies, educators, and IP professionals.
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