Protecting IP ownership and rights in Ireland: 6 things employers need to know

Published

Jun 9, 2023

Your company’s intellectual property is crucial to its earning potential. However, protecting IP ownership and rights is tricky to navigate, particularly when you’re opening a new company or expanding your current one in another country.

If you’re hiring in Ireland, you need to ensure others can’t use your ideas, inventions, trademarks, or other works for their own financial gain. The Irish government has its own IP regulation protections, and they’re also governed by the laws of the European Union, leaving you with several agencies to handle.

To avoid costly legal disputes and ensure you protect your intellectual property, read our primer on IP rights and ownership in Ireland (note: our guide is for informational purposes, and isn’t intended to provide legal advice).

1. NDAs are enforceable in Ireland, but you should hire a lawyer to draft yours for you

While Irish courts have historically upheld non-disclosure agreements—also called NDAs or confidentiality agreements—public attitude toward these legally binding contracts has soured as of late. As in many other European Union member states, the Irish government has taken a poor view of NDAs since it learned some employers were using them to gag employees from reporting harassment, abuse, and other serious crimes to the appropriate authorities. 

To counter this practice, in 2021, the Irish government passed the Employment Equality (Amendment) (Non-Disclosure Agreements Bill) to stop employers from forcing employees to sign NDAs to prevent them from reporting criminal acts. 

To make sure your NDA is worded properly and will be legally binding, it’s best to have an attorney draft the agreement for you, or at least look yours over.

2. You can register patents, trademarks, and industrial designs, but not copyrighted works

You can register your company’s patents, trademarks, and industrial designs with the Intellectual Property Office of Ireland. However, when it comes to copyrighted works (such as literary works, films, music, software, and even cars and medicine), the protection process isn’t as official and straightforward. Once you create something, you’ll receive automatic copyright protection, which is usually valid for 70 years after the creator passes away. 

There are some exceptions to the 70-year rule, depending on what type of work you create. Below is a short list of the terms of protection for different categories of copyrighted works:

  • Database rights are valid for 15 years, starting at the end of the calendar year in which the database was finished.
  • Sound recordings created before November 1, 2013 are protected for 50 years either from the date of their creation or before they’re made available to the public. The terms of protection were extended to 70 years for recordings created after this date.
  • Broadcasts are protected for 50 years, starting on the date they were first transmitted.
  • TV shows, or cable programs, are protected for 50 years, beginning on the date when they were first debuted to the public.

3. Several agencies, international agreements, and directives are involved in IP protection

This is where things start to get really complicated. More than one agency governs and enforces intellectual property legislation in Ireland. Here’s a quick rundown of who does what:

  • The Office of the Revenue Commissioners is the Irish government agency responsible for sharing intelligence about copyright infringement with other departments, including the Garda (the Irish police). They also enforce copyright rules at any place where products and ideas are imported into Ireland. 
  • An Garda Siochana, the Irish national police service, has a National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and an Anti-Racketeering Unit to work cases in which goods and/or ideas have been illegally pirated or are being counterfeited.
  • The Intellectual Property Office of Ireland is the official government agency that oversees all regulations related to intellectual property protection. They’re responsible for granting patents, registering trademarks, granting Design Protection, and determining copyright protection legislation. Their Intellectual Property Unit is solely devoted to administering and interpreting all legislation related to IP at all levels. 
  • The European Commission is the agency responsible for intellectual property protection throughout the European Union. They sign multilateral agreements with WIPO and the World Trade Organization to provide global IP protection. While they’re heavily involved in IP protection, the European Commission leaves the enforcement and interpretation of their directives to the individual governments of EU member states.
  • WIPO, or the World Intellectual Property Organization, is the United Nations branch that acts as a global forum for the protection of intellectual property and cooperation between companies when it comes to IP protection. You can use their website to find information about IP in specific countries and even specific industries.

4. Employers own the copyright to an employee’s work unless you override this in a written agreement

As stated earlier, Ireland has a strong legal framework for intellectual property protection. Some of its provisions are particularly favorable to employers. For instance, you own the rights to any work an employee creates while they are employed by you, unless you override this in a written agreement. 

5. Plant varieties and geographical locations are considered intellectual property in Ireland

That’s right: Irish law grants informal IP rights to business owners looking to protect some specific (but random) categories of intellectual property. Informal IP rights are given for:

  • Geographical indications. Let’s say a company produces a food item that’s notable for its quality, and that quality specifically stems from the region in which the food is sourced. In these cases, the geographical indications—in other words, the country of origin—is considered to give the company a competitive edge and is therefore protected under intellectual property statutes. Some examples include Bordeaux wine, Iberian ham, and Prosciutto di Parma. 
  • Plant varieties. If a company develops a new species of plant within the course of its work, that plant variety is protected by intellectual property laws. There’s even an international agency that ensures new plant species are protected: the International Union for the Protection of Varieties of New Plants (UPOV). 
  • Trade secrets. The Irish government has a very broad definition of what constitutes “trade secrets.” These could be a formula for a new medicine or a streamlined process that’s unique to the company. In general, anything that’s unique to a business, needs to be kept a secret, or provides a competitive advantage is considered a trade secret.

6. If you want to waive your moral rights, you have to do it in writing

Moral rights are a relatively new concept in Ireland compared with the rest of the European Union. They are, however, now protected under the CRRA. 

Moral rights in Ireland are as follows:

  • The paternity right. This refers to your right to be identified as the creator or author of your work.
  • The integrity right. You have the right to preserve the integrity of your creation; that is, you have the right to prevent your work from being distorted, used in a derogatory way, or otherwise mangled. 
  • The right of false attribution. This refers to your right to not have a creation falsely attributed to you. 

You can waive your moral rights if you wish, but the agreement must be in writing to be valid in Ireland.

Frequently asked questions about IP law in Ireland

Who owns IP in Ireland: employee or employer?

In Ireland, the employer owns the rights to all intellectual property created while employees are contractually obligated to their company. The only time the employee is the owner of their work is if this arrangement is reversed and set down in a written and signed contract.

Can I file a case against someone who uses my copyrighted work without my permission?

Ireland follows the directives on copyright law issued by the EU via the Copyright Related Rights Act 2000 (CRRA). And Ireland has signed a number of multilateral agreements administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to provide creators with an added layer of protection.

The bottom line is: Yes, you can take legal action against someone for copyright infringement.

What are the penalties for intellectual property infringement in Ireland?

Under the CRRA, the Patents Act 1992, the Industrial Designs Act 2001 Designs Act 2002, and the Trade Marks Act 1996, IP infringement is a punishable offense that carries both civil and criminal penalties. 

Civil penalties generally include financial compensation to the original owner of the work for damages suffered and profits lost. The courts can also order the offender to either destroy the work they stole or return it to you.

IP infringement is also a criminal offense, punishable by up to five years in prison.

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Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: June 9, 2023

The Author

Carrie Stemke

A freelance writer and editor based in New York City, Carrie writes about HR trends and global workforce management and is the Rippling content team’s expert on hiring know-how in Western Europe.

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