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Protection and use of State emblems

The official State emblems of Ireland are the Harp and the Shamrock. The National Flag is not a State emblem but is protected under the Irish Constitution. As the Department with overall responsibility for Intellectual Property, responsibility for the State emblems in the context of their use as trade marks and otherwise falls within the Department’s remit.

A person or company, who wishes to obtain registration of a trade mark containing a State emblem or to use a State emblem in connection with any business must first obtain consent from the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Any queries regarding the use of a State emblem must be directed to the Intellectual Property Unit of this department. Application for Ministerial consent to use a State emblem may be made in writing or by email to the Intellectual Property Unit. There is no formal application form. Each request for consent will be considered on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the applicable provisions of the Trade Marks Act 1996.

The minister is also empowered to take lawful steps against any person outside the State in the event of misuse of trade marks that would falsely indicate that the goods on which the trade mark is used were of Irish origin.

The Harp

Ireland has the distinction of being the only nation to have a musical instrument as a national emblem. The Harp was first recorded as the arms of Ireland in medieval times. It is depicted as such alongside the coats of arms of a dozen or more medieval European kingdoms on a single folio of the Wijnbergen roll of arms (a Flemish roll of arms) compiled about 1270. The model for the current standard representation of the heraldic Harp is the 14th century Harp now preserved in the Museum of Trinity College Dublin, popularly known as the Brian Boru or Brian Borumha Harp.

The State coat of arms is a gold Harp with silver strings on an azure field. This is adapted in flag form as the Presidential Standard, which is flown at the president's residence, Áras an Uachtaráin. The government, its agencies and its representatives at home and abroad, also use the Harp as the ordinary emblem of the State. It is the principal element of the seals of the office of president and all government ministers. The Harp is also found on the obverse of Euro coins minted in Ireland.

The Shamrock

Tradition holds that St Patrick used the Shamrock, a green trefoil, when preaching the Christian gospel in Ireland to explain the concept of the Trinity. The first records of it being used as a badge on St Patrick's Day date from the 17th Century. Today the Shamrock is also used extensively as a badge by Irish sports teams and, to a lesser extent as a component of the logos of some Irish State organisations and companies, both semi-State and private. It is also displayed on the uniforms of Irish troops serving abroad.             

Legislative provisions under international law on the use of State emblems

The need to provide protection at international level for armorial bearings, flags and other State Emblems was recognised in the 1925 Act of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.  Article 6ter of the Convention has as its objective, to protect, inter alia, armorial bearings, flags and other State emblems of the States party to the Paris Convention. Under this provision, the State emblems of Ireland, namely the heraldic arms, the Harp and Shamrock symbols and escutcheons in various forms as used by the State, were notified to the World Intellectual Property Organisation in January 1985.

In terms of national law, the Trade Marks Act, 1996 sets out the current position in terms of use of the State emblems in a trade mark context. The relevant sections of the Trade Marks Act, 1996 are sections 9, 62, 97 and 98.  Section 9 imposes a prohibition on registration of a trade mark consisting of, or containing, a state emblem of Ireland without the minister’s consent. The prohibition extends also to marks that so nearly resemble the emblems that they may be mistaken for such.

Unauthorised use or misuse of the State emblems

Section 97 of the Trade Marks Act 1996 confers enabling powers on the minister to take action in the event of unauthorised use of the State emblems, or those closely resembling them, by any person in the course of business and in a manner which suggests that the use of the State emblems is authorised. 

Section 98 of the Trade Marks Act 1996 Act confers extraterritorial powers on the minister to pursue relevant actions outside the State. This provision is designed to prevent, restrain or secure punishment for the registration, use or application in relation to goods not produced in the State, of any trade mark or other mark or description which is either falsely indicative of, or likely to lead to the belief, that the goods are of Irish origin. 

Further information

Applications for consent to use a State emblem or any queries relating to such use should be directed to the Intellectual Property Unit of this department.