A unique vision: Dr Ming Tan of IPOS International


Dr Ming Tan

A unique vision: Dr Ming Tan of IPOS International

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A robust IP regime and respect for the value of intangible assets are vital to an innovative economy. IPOS International is the enterprise and engagement arm of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore. Set up in 2019, it offers solutions to public agencies and enterprises by bringing together unique technical capabilities in patent search, examination and analytics, IP management and skills development.

IPOS envisions a Singapore where innovative enterprises use intangible assets to grow. Consequently, IPOS plays an important role in shaping Singapore’s economy through its stewardship of Singapore’s IP ecosystem.

Embracing diversity in discipline, thought, background, and personalities harnesses the best of what we each have to offer in service to a shared purpose and mission. Last year, Singapore retained its top spot as Asia’s most innovative nation in the Global Innovation Index released by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), Cornell University and INSEAD. It has held this position since 2014.

A balanced community

At IPOS International, our staff comprise nine nationalities represented across Asia and Europe. Many of us have international experience, which benefits our knowledge base substantially and enables us to serve our stakeholders better. The figures speak for themselves: 60% of our team, and four out of ten of our board directors, are women. Among our patent examiners, 65% are women. The IPOS International office looks like a genuinely balanced science, engineering, technology, and mathematics community.

In 2020, Singapore ranked top for the World Bank’s ‘Knowledge workers: females employed with advanced degrees’ indicator for the first time. This indicator measures the proportion of female employees with advanced degrees out of the total employed.

But there is always more we can do. The first Singapore Board Diversity Index was launched last year, reflecting a nuanced approach to diversity with eight dimensions: gender, age, tenure, board independence, cultural ethnicity, international experience, domain expertise, and industry knowledge. Embracing diversity begins with broadening the definition of diversity itself to enhance the quality of discussion, debate and decisions.

Bridging disciplines

My career started in engineering, with a focus on cross-border technology transfer. I concluded my studies with a doctorate in modern history, examining the social forces shaping intellectual and technological advancement. Thinking across disciplines has stood me in good stead throughout my career, first as a consultant in brand strategy and valuation, then in-house at a diversified luxury group, and currently in my role as managing director of IPOS International.

Bridging business, technical, creative, and legal disciplines, IP is a great example of inter-disciplinary practice and thinking.

Before joining IPOS International, I was responsible for fostering a sense of stewardship across the COMO group of companies, a portfolio of lifestyle companies founded by a Singaporean owner, Christina Ong, and operating in 14 countries worldwide.

Stewardship ensured that brands remained authentic and distinct, that operations were inclusive, responsible, and sustainable, and that our engagement with the community was strong. Not many companies would put brand and sustainability in the same team, but both contribute to creating long-term relevance and value.

I worked directly with the owner to establish her private philanthropy, which focused on closing the opportunity gap for women and girls to be positive agents for change within their communities. To date, the foundation has impacted the lives of more than 38 million women and girls in more than 20 countries.

At IPOS International, we take a multi-stakeholder approach. With service providers, we identify and fill gaps in the IP ecosystem, build enterprise capability in IP management, help enterprises navigate IP systems to access overseas markets and work with investors and C-suites to recognise the value of intangible assets.

The importance of role models

Role models are important. At IPOS International, we showcase entrepreneurs who use different IP strategies to grow their businesses. Two such examples are Yvon Bock and Lyn Lee. Bock is the founder of Hegen, which offers products for nursing mothers. Hegen’s range is protected by a global IP portfolio of registered designs, patents, and registered trademarks. This approach has defended the business against copycats and protected the investment in innovation. Lee grew her business, Awfully Chocolate, by creating a distinct brand around a focus on core products.  Through careful franchising, she was able to expand the footprint of her business. 

“Embracing diversity in discipline, thought, background, and personalities harnesses the best of what we each have to offer in service to a shared purpose.” Dr Ming Tan, IPOS International

Lee herself was a lawyer before she became an entrepreneur. In fact, women are well represented in the legal profession in Singapore. According to the statistics released by the Law Society of Singapore in 2020, more than 43% of the state’s lawyers are women. Beyond gender balance, Singapore is broadening access to legal education through admissions and curriculum innovations at our three law schools in the National University of Singapore, Singapore University of Social Sciences and Singapore Management University. This ensures diversity in interest, career ambitions and background.

IPOS International supports this vision by promoting IP literacy and innovative thinking as vital 21st-century skills. In 2020, our academy reached more than 10,000 participants through online lessons and webinars. We also developed the Master’s of IP and Innovation Management with the Singapore University of Social Sciences. Aimed at professionals seeking to augment their expertise, more than half of each cohort for the degree is female, with students from various business and technical backgrounds.

The IP offices of the future

IPOS continues to enhance Singapore’s IP policies in tandem with global developments. Moving forward, it is part of concerted international efforts to improve the reporting and valuation of intangible assets, which will allow enterprises to unlock and leverage the potential of their most valuable assets.

As globalisation and digitisation drive international IP filings and cross-border licensing arrangements, IPOS expects increased cross-border IP disputes and demand for international IP dispute resolution services. Singapore is already a trusted venue for multi-jurisdiction dispute resolution generally, and there is potential for IPOS to serve as an IP dispute resolution hub. IPOS has much to offer in alternative dispute resolution. It offers programmes such as the enhanced mediation promotion scheme, which provides funding for parties seeking to resolve their IP disputes through mediation.

While we expand the scope of our work, we never forget our core function: to enable innovation. Recent efforts include a mobile app for trademark applications and accelerated patent application schemes. Through multilateral and bilateral agreements, and with our International Search Authority and International Preliminary Examining Authority status, we make it easy to protect IP internationally. IPOS serves inventors and creators whose ingenuity and creativity transform the way we live, so we work to make Singapore the best place to protect and manage IP.

IPOS International, intangible assets, innovation, patent search, examination, IP management, WIPO, portfolio, licensing