An attractive regulatory environment is vital if, as a country, we are to foster an economy that puts emphasis on the protection, development and exploitation of innovation, says legal expert Paul Lavery, and Ireland scores pretty well in that regard.
Paul Lavery is a partner at McCann FitzGerald and the head of its Technology & Innovation Group, advising clients on a wide range of information technology, intellectual property (IP), data protection and confidentiality issues. Overall, he believes Ireland’s regulatory environment means we are well positioned to facilitate both indigenous and multinational companies in the digital space.
“Obviously nothing is ever 100pc perfect, but in terms of the regulatory basis, particularly as it relates to the digital space, I think there is a big incentive to come into this country, and also to set up your own business,” he says.
There are a number of things we are doing well, he continues. “One is the protection of IP rights. I think we have a very developed legal system in terms of protecting IP, whether it’s copyright or the protection of confidential information, trade secrets or the protection of patents. And the speed of access to the Commercial Court.”
He points also to the very good range of tax incentives for coming into Ireland to do business. “Obviously the low headline corporation tax is key, but we’ve also got a good double taxation treaty network as well, so people aren’t coming into Ireland and facing double tax. That’s a very important issue.
“We’ve got some very good R&D tax credit packages available. They could be better but they’re not bad. All of that – notwithstanding some of the negative press that Ireland has faced – still places us very highly in terms of being an attractive place to do business.” Lavery refers to the recent Economist Intelligence Unit business environment rankings for 2008–2012, which placed Ireland 11th of 82 countries – admittedly a drop from ninth place.
“That’s not bad at all,” he says. “If you look at it from a regulatory perspective, you’re talking about both the tax incentives to start up here and very clear protection of intellectual property rights.”
Irish protection rights
That IP regime is of course key when it comes to the digital space, and we score high here, according to Lavery. “People are aware that if they do develop innovative products and services, they will be in a position to protect them and, to the extent that someone breaches those rights, they’ll be in a position to take action against them, and they will be protected in Ireland.
Lavery says the IP question is often one of the first posed when he is dealing with a foreign company that is considering setting up in Ireland. “I’m always able to give positive answers. Copyright and the fact that it will automatically vest in the author of the work, or in the case of an employee, it will vest in the company itself.
“And we have a good patent regime as well, similar to our other European neighbours.
“Plus you’ve got protective laws when it comes to confidential information and trade secrets, which is designed to protect people who come up with innovative ideas. And that isn’t a recent development. There’s a case in Ireland (House of Spring Gardens V Point Blank) that goes back as far as the Eighties where somebody who had developed an idea for bullet-proof vests was able to protect that idea from being ripped off by somebody else, and received a large damages award over the misuse of confidential information.
“That does give people coming into the jurisdiction a sense that the fruit of their innovation will be protected and they will be able to maintain a competitive advantage as a result of anything they’ve done.”
The same advantages apply when it comes to our indigenous start-ups, Lavery explains. “The biggest fear any small start-up is going to have is that they’ll come up with a brilliant idea, but won’t be in a position to protect it.”
So it’s important to be able to give them the comfort that whatever they have developed, whether it’s software or a service, is capable of protection, he stresses.
“And this is something that anyone looking to invest in a start-up will also be keen on – it highlights the value that the start-up has already developed in relation to its IP rights.
“Obviously this is absolutely vital if as a country you are going to foster any type of an economy that puts emphasis on the protection, development and exploitation of innovation.”
Lavery also notes the significant improvements in our third-level institutions, when it comes to advising potential innovators on areas of IP and entrepreneurship in general.
“The old style model for academics was the ‘publish or perish’ one, it was not focused on the commercialisation of technology and innovation,” he says.
“That changed with the establishment of organisations like Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), which were designed to try to increase the number of patents that were being filed. All these good things were being done in universities, but not necessarily leading to an end product. The establishment of the SFI and, of course, the commercialisation units in the universities, that has made a big difference.
“Now you’re seeing great ideas coming out of the universities, companies where the technology and trade secrets they have developed look like they could have significant potential – not only for the people who developed the idea, but for Ireland Inc in terms of the employment that might generate.”
Lavery points to his involvement in the student entrepreneur awards in one of the Irish universities. “If you’re ever depressed about the state of the economy, when you see some of the innovative ideas coming from these very bright people of just 19 or 20 years of age, it is extremely heartening. It augurs very well for the future.”
Ireland’s tech leaders will discuss Ireland’s digital future at The Digital Ireland Forum on 30 September 2011.