Arthur Bellamy Tomkins
24th June 1900 – 7th July 2004
Arthur Tomkins, who died at the age of 104, was for many years
the doyen of the patent and trade mark profession in Ireland. Among
the highlights of his life was his election as first President of
the Association of Registered Patent Agents when he was already
67, followed by his annual re-election by his colleagues up to his
retirement when he was 82. Another highlight was his 100th Birthday
Party in the Radisson St. Helen’s Hotel, which was attended
by many members of the profession and where he received greetings
from both the President of Ireland and the Queen of England.
Arthur was born in Manor Park, on the eastern outskirts of London,
on Midsummer Day 1900. He attended the Raines Foundation School
in Stepney Green and by the age of 17 he had gained two scholarships
that enabled him to enter Engineering College. On turning 18 he
was called up into the British Army but he had not seen active service
by the time the Armistice was declared and he was demobbed. He found
it difficult to resume college studies and so in 1919 he started
training in an engineering works. The technical and drawing skills
that he gained there were to be the foundation for his professional
In 1922 he heard by chance of a vacancy in the London office of
Forrester Ketley & Co., Chartered Patent Agents. He applied
for the post with the idea of “keeping myself employed until
a real engineering job came along"1. He found that
he liked the work, so much so that by June 1926 he had passed the
Qualifying Examination for entry on the Register of Patent Agents.
However, it was not until his horse “Black Prince” came
third in an office sweepstake on the 1928 Derby that he could afford
the fees to join the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents.
He had moved from Forrester Ketley to the small firm of Chatwin
& Co., and then to the office of Cachemaille and Le Tall, which
was in effect the Metropolitan Vickers patent department. By 1930
he was in the I.T.T./Standard Telephones and Cables patent department.
As a result of the US slump, the numbers employed in the department
were drastically reduced. He survived the cut but he decided to
look elsewhere, possibly in New Zealand. Then the telephone rang
and he was asked if he would consider going to Ireland. Someone
was needed to take over the Dublin firm of Byrne & Co.
The Irish Patents Office had opened in 1927 and a number of British-based
patent agents had set up Dublin offices in order to carry on practice
in the Irish Free State. Among them was E.L.W. Byrne, an Irishman
who was a partner in a London firm2. However the law was changed
in 1929 to require that a patent agent must be resident in the Free
State. Byrne wanted to stay in London and so had transferred his
Dublin business to James Dornan, an Irish registered patent agent,
but Dornan had died shortly afterwards. Frank Lysaght3, the manager
of Byrne & Co., came to London seeking a qualified person to
live in Ireland. Arthur Tomkins, despite having no Irish connections,
decided to take the chance, provided that he could make the firm
his own. He arrived in Ireland in December 1930, followed by his
wife and two young children in April 1931. Lysaght continued to
play an important part in the business and he had a financial interest.
But after a few years the firm became Tomkins & Co4.
Arthur Tomkins brought a fine combination of skills to his professional
work. He had a natural ability in analysing the patent and trade
mark laws. He was a practical engineer and would frequently make
“Meccano” models either of new inventions or of prior
art machines5. He did his own mechanical drawings and drafted specifications
in meticulous English. He also had a good grounding in both German
and French from his schooldays and he used this ability to develop
professional contacts in Continental Europe.
His interest in language also served him very well in handling
trade mark matters, which he had learned in London and which formed
a substantial proportion of an Irish Patent Agent’s work in
the early years. He amassed a large and well-thumbed collection
of case law from which he would select the most pertinent decisions
by memory. He had a formidable reputation for his pugnacious style
during Hearings at the Irish Patents Office. Yet he retained most
cordial relations with successive Controllers of that Office. He
contributed vigorously to discussion about the new Irish trade mark
and patent laws introduced in 1963/64. It was under the 1963 Act
that a Register of Trade Mark Agents was introduced, on the initiative
of the then Controller, Dr. J.J. Lennon. The profession had not
asked for it but Arthur Tomkins thought that Dr. Lennon had found
from experience that he had to waste a lot of time when unqualified
people appeared before him at Trade Mark Hearings6.
Arthur Tomkins was a sole practitioner for 40 years. The profession
in Ireland remained small until the 1960’s7. Then, in keeping
with the economic progress of the country, the interest in industrial
property started to grow and young people became qualified. Arthur
Tomkins retired in 1982, after 60 years in the profession, leaving
his partners to continue the good work.
The Association of Registered Patent Agents, which had existed
for many years, was formalised in 1967 and Arthur Tomkins was elected
as its first President. He had acted as Secretary for some time
before this. For 15 successive years he presided over the Association
as its numbers grew and the range of technical and legal skills
of its members expanded in a way that could not have been imagined
back in 1930. After his retirement he continued to maintain an interest
in the profession and to attend the annual dinner of the Association,
by now the Association of Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys, for
a further 21 years. Overall, he was a member of the Association
for 73 years.
He lived an independent life in his own home until he suffered
a fall, just two weeks before his 104th birthday. After almost a
month in hospital he weakened and passed away peacefully.
Not long after his retirement in 1982, his beloved wife Lucy died.
They had met at school in 1915 and had been happily married for
60 years. Arthur and Lucy had a son, John, and a daughter, Margaret,
but sadly the only grandchild, Alan, died while still an infant.
Andrew Parkes ©
From an interview he gave in 2003, at the time of his 103rd birthday.
2 . Later President of the Chartered Institute in 1945-4.6
3. Frank Lysaght was not himself a patent agent.
4. Frank Lysaght severed his connection with the firm
in January 1940. His own practice specialising in registration formalities
was established in Egypt in 1946 and subsequently re-located to
Jersey (Lysaght & Co).
5. As used in Court in Solon v. Bord na Mona  I.L.T.R.
6. After the initial Register was set up, qualification
for new entrants involved a viva voce examination which was a good
test of real familiarity with trade mark matters.
7. In 1963 there were only three names entered in the
Register of Patent Agents. The same three names were the first entries
in the Register of Trade Mark Agents in April 1964, followed by
a substantial number of solicitors and then by four individuals
who had been active professionally in the offices of the patent