orpheus26 / iStockphoto.com
Before IP Week @ SG 2018, which takes place on September 4 and 5, 2018, Tan Shau En, executive director of the IP ValueLab, tells WIPR more about how the enterprise engagement arm of IPOS is encouraging innovation in Singapore.
What is the purpose of the IP ValueLab?
Singapore’s economy is transforming. To prepare for the future economy, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) has evolved from an IP registry to an innovation agency.
To achieve this, we put in place concrete measures to support the transformation of ideas into assets. We believe the best way to do this is through enterprises, and our efforts are now directed towards using our technical abilities to help them commercialise their IP and support innovation from and through Singapore.
IPOS’s enterprise engagement arm—IP ValueLab (IPVL)—was set up with the mission of providing advice to businesses so they can maximise the value of their intangible assets and leverage them for growth.
In the past 15 months, we have worked with about 50 companies on a variety of engagements, from simple audits to identifying intangible assets and helping companies formulate an intangible asset strategy that is aligned with their business goals to compete and grow globally. We have also helped our partner fund—Makara Innovation Fund (MIF)—conduct intangible asset due diligence before it invests in a company.
IPVL will continue to evolve our services to meet global market needs, and work with strategic partners to service the flow of ideas and innovation through Singapore as a gateway, positioning us as an attractive location to manage companies’ IP and intangible assets.
Why did IPOS decide to partner with MIF?
In Southeast Asia, there is no lack of investment funds but they tend to be concentrated in the early and mature stages, leaving a gap in the B to D rounds. We also noticed that funds are more crowded towards traditional investment themes such as infrastructure, resources and property, rather than on innovation.
In this strategic partnership, we combine the private sector’s business acumen and contacts with IPOS’s deep technical understanding of innovation and IP, as well as extensive global networks to help promising enterprises scale globally. MIF was designed to plug the funding gap by providing smart growth capital to innovation-driven enterprises.
“Singapore can be a place where great ideas from anywhere in the world can be commercialised.”
The partnership involves IPVL providing the technical expertise for intangible asset due diligence and referring companies that we deem would be of interest to MIF. As an independent professional party, IPVL does not participate in MIF’s investment decisions.
What kind of businesses does MIF invest in?
MIF scans globally for innovative enterprises in the early growth stage and uses Singapore as a node to connect them to regional markets. The fund’s sector focus includes, but is not limited to, urban solutions, advanced technologies, fintech, alternative energy, healthcare and biomed.
What have been the biggest successes?
The biggest success would have to be the warm reception we have received from the hundreds of companies that we have engaged with. All of them are very receptive to the idea that an intangible asset is a very important lever for profits and growth.
We are also glad to see that MIF has successfully secured its first investment in MyRepublic, a telecoms tech company that is rapidly expanding into the regional telecoms business. It received an investment of over $51 million in November 2017 from MIF in which IPVL helped to perform an intangible asset due diligence for Makara Capital. With the investment, MyRepublic will use Singapore as a base for business growth and expansion in Southeast Asia.
Earlier this year, MIF invested $30 million into a financial infrastructure firm, Tryb Group. Tryb Group will utilise the investment fund to accelerate its acquisition plans for growth-stage financial technology companies in the ASEAN region.
We want to continue to be the place where great ideas from anywhere in the world can be commercialised, which in turn will create value for the people and economies of the region and beyond.
Describe Singapore’s innovation landscape.
Singapore’s research and development (R&D) ecosystem is going from strength to strength. We are midway through the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan in which the Singapore government committed almost $14 billion to capture more value from our R&D.
Thanks to this initiative, we have been highly ranked in global innovation rankings such as the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2018, where we came fifth. Local research institutes such as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU) and National University of Singapore (NUS) are among the top patent filers in Singapore, and local brands such as DBS Bank, Singtel and Singapore Airlines are world-renowned and command strong valuations.
The current focus is to help improve the commercialisation outcomes of Singapore’s R&D efforts in the form of successful products and services, which will ultimately generate strong revenue streams for investors.
IPVL will continue to help innovative enterprises and innovators better manage and commercialise their intangible assets. We have a very clear view that innovation is the process of getting ideas to the market where there will be an economic and social impact.
How does this landscape compare to other countries in the ASEAN region?
IP offices are bound by international treaties and remain a close-knit community where we hold regular exchanges of ideas through working visits and platforms such as the ASEAN Working Group on IP Cooperation (AWGIPC). Our community is mindful that larger national and supranational forces have shaped innovation to become a progressive key driver for growth in our economies. This is what prompted IP offices to rethink about our roles in contributing to the innovation agenda in our respective countries.
Singapore is fortunate because we are in an environment where agility and entrepreneurial spirit—even in government agencies—is prized. That said, we never forget that we are a node in the web of a global innovation community. This is why we talk about how Singapore can be a place where great ideas from anywhere in the world can be commercialised, which in turn will create value for the people and economies of the region and beyond.
What risks do IP owners face in Singapore?
All companies, whether a startup or a mature business, will have created some form of IP in their inventions, products or services. It is essential for business owners to understand how to protect and manage their IP to achieve an optimal outcome.
From our engagements with enterprises, we observed some important insights. First, not all enterprises are aware of the types of intangible assets or IP that they own. Usually, these assets remain neglected until the business owners become aware of the intrinsic value they bring to the business. But knowing what you own is just the first step to managing your business success.
Second, some companies do not have a proper IP strategy as they chart their growth plans. They often lack the systems and processes to identify or manage their valuable intangible assets, and this business challenge raises many concerns. For example, they might mistakenly or unintentionally leak important information. Others could apply inadequate protection or, sometimes, overprotection that creates no incremental value to the business. Overprotection consumes scarce resources, hampers growth plans and blunts any competitive edge. A clear understanding of business objectives and a right strategy to capture value is important.
Lastly, enterprises often fail to extract value from their intangible assets and IP. The failure to recognise the true value of their intangible assets puts these businesses in a disadvantageous position in any third party collaborations or negotiations. In these scenarios, businesses might find themselves short-changed if they give away their IP for much too little, which will certainly affect their commercialisation prospects in the long run. In any successful negotiation or pitch for funding, it is vital to know what intangible assets you own and the value that they can bring for your business.
What are the IP considerations for companies that IPVL has advised on?
IP commercialisation is a relatively new concept here in Singapore. Many companies are still not aware of the intrinsic value of IP and how it can power their business. IPVL’s mission is to empower enterprises to discover, develop and deliver the value of their intangible assets for exponential profits and growth. Like in a real lab, we want to help enterprises discover the secret formula to their success—by creating a strong IP position that will deliver sustainable margins and higher returns, especially when they are taking their brands and innovations to the world.
Intangible assets vary from the companies that we have helped. The most common ones are registrable IP such as trademarks, patents, designs as well as those that do not require registration with the patent office. These include data, content, trade secrets, standards, regulatory approvals, etc.
Today, we are very much focused on promoting IP awareness through strategic partnerships, events, marketing efforts and communications at the national, enterprise and individual levels.
To enable businesses to be more adept in managing and transacting their intangible assets and IP at the enterprise value, IPVL has introduced a series of IP business guides on the best industry practices. With these guides, companies will be able to identify the various forms of IP that they can manage and understand the role of IP in their business strategy. We also feature case studies on our website based on local examples of enterprises that have leveraged their intangible assets for growth and expansion. Additionally, IPVL provides customised and subsidised one-on-one advisory on IP strategy, management and commercialisation.
Business owners and innovators can also look forward to attending Singapore’s premier IP event, IP Week @ SG 2018, which will take place on September 4 and 5, 2018 at the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. This annual IP conference attracts the best of the international businesses, funds and service providers specialising in IP and intangible assets to share insights on IP commercialisation and winning strategies for business growth. This year, we are expecting some 3,000 delegates from over 40 countries to attend.
Why is it important for businesses to align their IP strategies with their overall business strategy?
Too often, companies see IP as irrelevant or at best, a shield for defending themselves against lawsuits. Sometimes, it is seen as something that is important only for businesses operating in certain segments of the economy. In fact, intangible assets and IP are closely related, and most companies often pay close attention to IP only after they have experienced pitfalls.
We encourage companies to view IP and intangible assets as strategic levers to create business profits and growth. An enterprise that wants to secure uninterrupted growth should have a clear business goal that incorporates IP into its business strategy so as to avoid any potential impediments as it scales its business in the future. Additionally, the ability to articulate a business strategy that hinges on intangible assets differentiates businesses from their competition during funding rounds. It highlights their level of sophistication in understanding and harnessing IP, and may even give them an edge in using their IP as collateral to raise funds.
IP Week, IP ValueLab, Tan Shau En, innovation, intellectual property, patent, IPOS, Intellectual Property Office of Singapore