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Following IP Week @ SG, an event hosted by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore in August, the office’s CEO Daren Tang tells WIPR about the key developments and challenges in a technologically advanced city-state.
What are some of the key changes stemming from the patents and registered designs
IP policy-making is always about finding the right balance and supporting the larger economic and social needs of the country. As these change over time, IP laws have similarly to evolve, so that they continue being relevant to the country.
Singapore has a small domestic market, so we have to be even more sensitive to these changes, and nimble in adjusting our laws. We have been fortunate that our IP regime has been highly rated by numerous international agencies, and we hope that the recent amendments to the patents and registered design laws will help us continue as an attractive jurisdiction for creators, designers and businesses to establish and grow.
The smaller suite of amendments relate to our patents regime. With effect from October 30, 2017, we are closing the “foreign route” which currently allows foreign patent applications to enter into the Singapore market. This route will no longer be available from January 1, 2020 and all patent applications will have to undergo full search and examination based on Singapore’s laws.
This is an important change as it will significantly strengthen Singapore’s patent regime and bring greater certainty for patent holders, while giving time for current users of the “foreign route” to adjust over a period of time to these changes.
Coupled with our recent patent search and examination fees adjustments, where we reduced upfront filing fees from between 14% to 27%, businesses can leverage on our speed (eg, 60 days for a search and examination report) and networks (eg, global patent prosecution highways [GPPHs], ASEAN Patent Examination Cooperation [ASPEC], Singapore-Cambodia Patent Re-registration System) to expand into key markets confidently.
In relation to registered designs, we will broaden the scope of designs protection. We will allow the registration of handmade articles, such as handcrafted jewellery, under the Registered Designs Act. Virtual designs will also be protected. One example would be a virtual keyboard that is projected on to a surface.
We will also allow for colours to be protected as a design feature, as long as they are part of another design feature. Many readers will know that colour protection under IP law has been controversial, with attempts to do so under trademark being largely unsuccessful. We think that using the designs regime, where the period of protection is shorter, may result in fewer anti-competitive effects.
Across both patents and registered designs, we have also broadened the grace period for disclosures. We will allow any public disclosure of the invention that originates from the inventor to be disregarded if it occurs within 12 months before the patent application was made. This will enable our inventors to disclose information of their inventions for strategic and business purposes (eg, attract investors, assess market demand) even before they file a patent.
Similar amendments are being made for the registered designs grace period. That said, while we discern a trend internationally where grace period is moving towards 12 months, there are different practices across jurisdictions. Applicants filing across multiple countries will have be aware of this and not be inadvertently caught out by these differences.
You’re reviewing the copyright regime. Are you able to share some of your findings so far?
In the past decade, we have seen tremendous changes to the way content is created and consumed, and consequently, in the way we work, communicate and play. Copyright is a key component of the networks that allows content to flow. This means that copyright has become, more than ever, the most impactful IP right on us individually.
Naturally, copyright regimes all over the world have had to react to these changes. In Singapore’s case, the changes have even more impact because we are a city-state with a tech-savvy population (our mobile penetration rate is 140%, and we have one of the fastest broadband speeds in the world). Any review of our copyright regime therefore needed to be consultative and well considered.
We started by getting together stakeholders with an interest in copyright issues, including academics and experts, to help us frame the right issues for the public consultation.
We then moved into our public consultation phase in the second half of last year, where 16 proposals were tabled for views from the public (Table 1).
Table 1: Results of public consultation on copyright issues
1. Establishing a voluntary copyright registration system
9.Permitting text & data mining for the purposes of data analysis
2. Changing default rules for ownership of commissioned works
|10.Updating educational exceptions to reflect digital education|
3.Setting an expiry date for copyright protection of unpublished works
|11. Facilitating the work of libraries and archives|
4.Making mandatory right of attribution for creators and performers
12. Facilitating the Work of museums and galleries
|5. Providing information to help the creator-publisher/producer relationship||13. Adjusting existing provisions for print-disabled users|
6.Protecting certain exceptions from being restricted by contracts
|14. Allowing the use of non-patent literature in patent search and examination work|
7.Removing “5th factor” from the “fair dealing” exception
|15. Increasing the availability of materials on official government registers|
|8. Allowing Use of “orphan works” where owner is unknown or uncontactable||16. Updating the list of allowable circumventions of technological protection measures|
A second public consultation was held in the middle of this year that focused on reviewing the copyright collective rights management ecosystem in Singapore, given the organisations’ important role as intermediaries in the copyright market, where they not only support creators and artists, but also help provide legitimate content to the public.
We hope to build a copyright regime that is fair and balanced, provides clarity to stakeholders and promotes an efficient copyright market.
How will Singapore deal with the way content is now being consumed on online platforms?
The explosion of online content is indeed a dominant theme in the copyright review, and this has had an impact not just on consumers but also in areas which have strong social aspects—education, archives, museums, etc.
However, whatever the technological or industry trends, our intent is to build a copyright regime in Singapore that is fair and balanced, provide clarity to stakeholders, and promote an efficient copyright market.
In terms of finding the right balance, the challenge is that the content industry is itself in a dynamic state, so we have to make careful judgement calls on the appropriate balance to strike between competing tensions. Ideally, our laws should facilitate, rather than hinder, the development of the market. Many of the issues we raised centre around the issue of how to strike the right balance, at this point of time, where there are competing stakeholder interests.
Providing clarity to our stakeholders is more about ensuring that our stakeholders understand what can be a highly technical area of law which has an impact on them. One way is of course to draft laws and regulations in a simple and easy-to-understand manner. But there are limits to this, and sometimes precision or technical terms are needed in spelling out the law.
So the other strategy is to ensure that the IP office engages with the community to translate the laws into materials that are easily understood. A number of IP offices have already started doing this, by working with stakeholders to produce notices and guidances, and we think this is a good way to demystify the law and give greater clarity to copyright law and its impact on daily activities.
As for the efficient marketplace, we believe it is important that consumers have access to legitimate content at reasonable prices, and one of the functions of the copyright regime is to support this. One obvious facet of this is the role and functioning of the collective management organisations, and this was the topic of our second public consultation this year.
"We hope to build a copyright regime that is fair and balanced, provides clarity to stakeholders and promotes an efficient copyright market."
With a good airing of these issues, we hope to adjust our copyright regime to one that better supports our content creators and owners, as well as bring value to our consumers and institutions.
As we develop our innovation and media ecosystems where content creators and owners thrive in the digital economy, we can expect more challenges ahead which will require a delicate balancing act to ensure our copyright regime meets Singapore’s economic and societal needs.
How is Singapore helping businesses commercialise their IP and protect their brands?
As our economy shifts towards one that is driven by ideas and innovation, enterprises of the future will see most of their value increasingly built around their intangible assets and IP. As an innovation agency, we see tremendous value in employing our deep IP expertise and networks to catalyse enterprise growth of IP-intensive companies in our ecosystem, translating their research and development (R&D) outcomes into marketable IP assets. We have embarked on several keynote initiatives in this regard.
To encourage businesses to protect their brands, technologies and products through IP, we have reduced our trademark and patent filing fees by up to 30%. Through a pilot “Mark Your Trade” initiative, we are helping local businesses understand the importance of trademark protection so that they may harness the power of branding for business growth. We also launched complimentary IP business and legal clinics to connect enterprises with IP professionals so that they can receive customised advisory on their IP business and legal matters (eg, franchising, branding strategies, IP contracts, etc).
For innovative late stage startups, will have access to smart and patient capital through our recently announced billion dollar Makara Innovation Fund (MIF). The MIF provides high-growth companies with strong IP and proven business models to tap into Singapore’s IP ecosystem to deepen their value creation, compete effectively and expand into global markets.
Given the importance of empowering our local businesses with IP know-how and management expertise, we have partnered with the Singapore Business Federation (SBF)—Singapore’s largest business association—to help its 25,000 members access the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS’s) suite of IP services.
We have also embedded IPOS officers (who are trained IP management consultants) in the many startup incubators in Singapore, to help deep-tech startups translate their innovative technologies from R&D into products and services.
More significantly, to provide businesses with even greater access to IP strategy and IP management advice, our newly established subsidiary, IP ValueLab (IPVL), has a focused mission to invigorate IP commercialisation by strengthening innovative enterprises’ competitiveness through IP.
IPOS will continue to enhance our services and work with strategic partners to service the flow of ideas and innovation through Singapore and support the innovative enterprises which are creating value for our economy and society.
How is Singapore building connections with global economies through IP?
Singapore seeks to be one of the nodes along the global innovation supply chain, where ideas are transformed into assets through IP commercialisation before flowing out to key markets.
Our annual IP Week @ SG conference is an important thought leadership platform where we continue to foster communications and collaborations with our counterparts in foreign governments, IP offices, innovation and IP communities, and varying business sectors.
This event has grown from strength to strength, and attracted a strong profile of leaders from the legal and business fraternities from different countries to network and share the trending developments in IP and innovation across different industries and economies.
Besides building a world-class IP regime, we are actively growing our global connectivity so that businesses can use their IP and innovation to seamlessly connect with major overseas markets. Singapore is the only ASEAN country to be part of the GPPH and is also a member of the ASPEC. These connections give Singapore that competitive edge as a strategic gateway for businesses to take their technologies, products, content and services from ASEAN to the world, or vice versa.
Take the example of China, which is now the world’s second largest economy and largest IP filer. To facilitate the surge of ideas, knowledge and innovation from China, Singapore set up its first overseas IP office in Guangzhou in 2015, to connect innovative Chinese enterprises with Singapore’s IP expertise and extensive IP networks to access global and regional markets.
The China representative office will bridge Chinese enterprises that are keen to venture into Southeast Asia with quality IP partners and advisory services, equipping them with a good understanding of these markets and an appropriate IP business strategy.
As IP and innovation increasingly take the centre stage to drive economic growth, we are gearing up to foster deeper ties with innovative centres from around the world to build up enterprise value through IP.
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