The View from the Top


Tom Phillips

The View from the Top

Eevelle Brand Ambassador /

Intellectual property offices around the world started out as registries to regulate a particular country’s IP regime. Innovation and technology are changing that. Tom Phillips reports.

Today, an intellectual property office (IPO) is “seen as an agency which is innovative and which helps to promote innovation,” said Rena Lee, who assumed the role of Chief Executive/Registrar of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) in August.

This sentiment was shared by Andrei Iancu, Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and Tim Moss, Chief Executive Officer and Comptroller General of the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO), about their respective IPOs, at separate sessions this week, all sharing the title Capsule Keynote: Key Issues Affecting Brands.

Education Leads to Innovation

While innovation is at the core of what the IPOs do, as noted by Mr. Moss, a general understanding of the role that intellectual property (IP) plays in innovation is not always a given.

“A central issue for all of us in the IP field is the understanding of IP rights,” he said. In his experience, IP is too often viewed as a specialist or technical legal area.

Mr. Moss wants the wider public to understand that IP exists to incentivize innovation and creativity. “Everyone is creative, and everyone has ideas, so everyone should understand IP,” he declared.

For this reason, he said, he wants to change the narrative around IP so that it becomes an accessible, mainstream topic of conversation and part of the education curriculum.

Ms. Lee said that IPOS works directly with businesses to enhance their understanding of IP.

In Singapore, 99 percent of businesses are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or microbusinesses, so catering to their needs is especially important in the wider context of their overall contribution to the economy.

“We work with lawyers from the private sector as well as business consultants to provide advice to SMEs around how to protect their IP, what strategies they can use to help their IP grow, and to help them commercialize their IP,” she explained.

“If you previously had a right which covered the EU, you will, on January 1, 2021, have two rights: one in the EU covering the 27 Member States, and one in the UK covering the UK.” Tim Moss, UKIPO

Mr. Iancu similarly emphasized the vital role that IP has been playing for many years in driving innovation and job creation in the U.S. economy and around the world.

“We must uphold and strengthen our IP systems to encourage even greater innovations,” he urged.

He said that IP systems must be well-balanced, ensuring that inventors are protected but that access to important technologies is not inhibited.

Mr. Iancu pointed out that, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, around the world, dozens of vaccines are in various stages of clinical trials, and various therapeutics, personal protection equipment, and ventilator technologies have been developed and commercialized.

“None of this would have been possible without all of the amazing inventions pre-pandemic,” he said. “Every time the world needs solutions, it calls upon IP-based innovations.

“Entrepreneurship and innovation are the great equalizers,” Mr. Iancu concluded.

Ms. Lee sees the future as bright. “I intend to continue our efforts to promote innovation in our enterprises, to help them achieve growth and contribute to the overall growth of the economy,” she said.

“I intend to continue our efforts to promote innovation in our enterprises, to help them achieve growth and contribute to the overall growth of the economy.” Rena Lee, IPOS







Technology as a ‘Must-Have’

In Singapore, IPOS is exploring the ways technologies can help the Office to deliver a better user experience and enable it to meet their changing needs.

“Many businesses are investing in digital technology and that’s going to change the way we operate,” Ms. Lee said.

IPOS was one of the first IPOs in the world to introduce online IP filing, with Ms. Lee describing the IP2SG filing platform as a “one-stop filing platform for all IP.”

Last year, IPOS launched the IPOS GO mobile application which incorporates artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance image search capability for similar trademarks.

“Simply download the app and it takes less than 10 minutes to apply for a trademark,” Ms. Lee said.

Mr. Iancu said the USPTO is also increasingly working with AI technologies.

“For an IPO of our size, AI tools are no longer a nice thing to have,” he said. “I believe they’re becoming a must-have, so we’re very focused on implementing machine learning technologies into our operations.”

The USPTO is currently looking into the use of AI tools to search for trademark misuse and to find prior art in the context of patents.

Mr. Iancu said that the latter is difficult as it involves text-to-text searching, followed by a judgment call on how close the concepts expressed in the texts are to each other, but he added that significant progress is being made.

Meanwhile, the UKIPO is exploring how it can use AI to benefit its employees and users.

Mr. Moss said that AI can be used as an “advanced assist tool” to help improve searches for trademarks, thereby helping examiners and benefiting users.

According to Ms. Lee, there are two perspectives to consider when it comes to the adoption of disruptive technologies.

“One is, how do IPOs make use of AI in terms of the services we provide? The second perspective is how businesses are using AI—and what regime is governing the use of AI to drive innovation?

“We need to ensure that the IP regimes will continue to develop to deal with the challenges that we can face on the policy, business, and legal fronts in terms of the utilization of the new technology by businesses,” Ms. Lee said.

At the USPTO, Mr. Iancu said that, as well as focusing on implementing machine learning technologies into its operations, the Office is committed to developing appropriate IP policies for the new technologies themselves.

However, AI is a particularly tricky area to regulate.

Mr. Moss said that AI is “one of the most exciting but also most challenging things for the IP world, full stop,” and it’s important that the right protections around IP and data are in place.

For example, for AI-created inventions, there are questions over issues of ownership and liability, and whether the right protections in this area currently exist. He called it a “topic which is open for discussion.”

“We must uphold and strengthen our IP systems to encourage even greater innovations.” Andrei Iancu, USPTO






The Elephant in the Room

While these three IPOs have much in common, the UKIPO faces a unique challenge: the impact of the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and its effects on IP.

Despite formally leaving the EU on January 31, 2020, the UK has continued as normal in relation to EU trademark rights during the transition period.

On December 31, 2020, the transition period comes to an end, at which point EU trademarks (EUTMs) and designs will be converted into “comparable” UK rights, Mr. Moss explained. This will happen automatically and at no cost to right owners.

“We are extremely busy ensuring that the legal framework for IP in the UK and our operational systems can function through the transition period,” Mr. Moss said.

He explained that the UK will be “onboarding well over two million rights,” made up of EUTMs and EU designs.

Mr. Moss reminded attendees: “If you previously had a right which covered the EU, you will, on January 1, 2021, have two rights: one in the EU covering the 27 Member States, and one in the UK covering the UK.”

Later Today

Registrants are invited to tune in later today, 1:45 pm–2:15 pm (EST), to the final Capsule Keynote focusing on key issues affecting brands from the perspective of IPOs.

Christian Archambeau, Executive Director of the European Union Intellectual Property Office, will share his insights and experiences in Capsule Keynote—Key Issues Affecting Brands: A View from EUIPO.

Mr. Archambeau will be interviewed by 2020 Annual Meeting Co-Chair Elisabeth Bradley, Vice President, Innovation Law: Trademarks, Copyrights, and Brand Protection at Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (US).

Ms. Bradley interviewed Mr. Iancu earlier this week in his Capsule Keynote, while 2020 Annual Meeting Co-Chair Jo-Ann See, Director at Amica Law LLC (Singapore) interviewed Ms. Lee and Mr. Moss.

INTA 2020, innovation, technology, IPOS, USPTO, UKIPO, IP rights, SMEs, COVID-19, pandemic, invention, artificial intelligence, Andrei Iancu