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Association of Patent and Trademark Attorneys' History

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 career.

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 ©

1. 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 [1956] 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 agents
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Dessie and Arthur Tomkins
Arthur Tomkins and Desmond O'Malley, Minister for Industry & Commerce at the Union Conference in Dublin in 1977.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank Lysaght

Frank Lysaght (taken in 1978) who was the manager of Byrne & Co. and who persuaded Arthur Tomkins to come to Ireland in 1930.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tomkin
To celebrate Arthur's 100th birthday in 2000, Frank Gorman (President 1999-2001) presents Arthur with a memento of the occasion.
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