Patent owners looking for an attractive place to seek protection in Asia need look no further than Singapore, says Max Ng and Gerald Mursjid of Gateway Law Corporation

What is Singapore’s policy toward patenting?

As affirmed by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS), Singapore recognises that IP plays a key role in the development of the nation’s economy. Consequently, Singapore has formulated and is maintaining the following three key policy anchors driving the growth of IP:

Accessibility: provide access to a robust IP system to assist Singapore and Singapore-based businesses to scale and thrive in the rule-based trading system of the world.

Interoperability: build linkages with strategic partners to allow for mutual access to markets and IP regimes so as to facilitate globalisation.

Quality: maintain quality IP system with credible IP service industry and professionals to serve Singapore and beyond.

Singapore is an ideal location to seek patent protection for commercialisation in the region.

What is the cheapest and most efficient route to patenting in Singapore and why?

Patent protection can be a long and arduous process to administer. The cheapest route would be to apply for a patent directly in Singapore.

As the process is long and arduous, it is advisable to seek the professional services of a law firm that is able to align the inventor’s patent strategy with the inventor’s business goals, thereby leveraging the most value from existing IP assets.

At Gateway Law, our aim is to assist our clients to protect and extract the maximum commercial returns from their valuable intellectual assets. Our expertise encompasses the full spectrum of patent issues. Furthermore, our IP practice group has close relationships with a network of associates in all major jurisdictions in the region, providing clients a multi-networked agency service securing, protecting and enforcing their patent rights in a cost-effective manner in Singapore and across the region.

Historically, the search and examination of Singapore patent applications is not conducted by IPOS. Instead, this is contracted out to selected foreign patent offices. In recent years, however, IPOS has hired numerous patent examiners who are experts in numerous major industries, with a view of undertaking the search and examination of patent applications itself. Having done so nevertheless, an applicant can still rely on the grant or the allowance of a foreign corresponding application for the grant of a Singapore patent.

The shift to ensuring a full and credible examination function under the Singapore Patent Law is continuing with the recent announcement that IPOS intends to close off the ‘foreign route’ no earlier than 1 January 2020. Where previously applicants might have chosen to rely on an international preliminary report on patentability (IPRP) or any foreign results, thereby circumventing the need to request local substantive search and examination, applicants in the future will no longer have this option.

The abolishment of the foreign route is aimed at strengthening the Singapore patent regime, by ensuring that all Singapore-granted patents fully meet the local patentability requirements, thereby enhancing their quality.

How useful is the enforcement process in Singapore?

Due to the ever-present threat of patent infringement, it is important to know the enforcement process in Singapore. Generally, the court system in Singapore is swifter in its response and is more effective than those in neighbouring jurisdictions. The speed at which an inventor can enforce IP rights and the credibility of a Singapore judgement make Singapore an attractive location to seek patent protection.

Given Singapore’s relationship with China, are there benefits to using Singapore as a gateway to the lucrative Chinese market?

Besides sharing close bilateral ties, both Singapore and China signed an Agreement on Patent Data Exchange in 2013. This agreement has further facilitated the exchange of IP information and patent data. More thorough searches of prior art allow for more legal certainty for Singapore-based businesses venturing into the Chinese market as existing patents in China will be more easily identifiable.

This leads to less infringement and better chances of granting patents. More importantly, this ensures that patenting in Singapore is expedited and costs to businesses are kept to a minimum.

IPOS also has a Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) pilot programme in place with China’s State IP Office (SIPO). This programme allows the patent authorities to share the results of their searches and/or examinations with each other. This reduces work, leads to a faster prosecution of the patent application and improves the process of search and examination by providing the examiner with information that he or she would otherwise not have access to.

As such, using Singapore seems to be the logical choice as a gateway to the Chinese market.

IPOS has also launched PPH pilot programmes with the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property and with the European Patent Office.

What about work sharing in wider Asia? Are the region’s patent offices teaming up?

Singapore is part of the ASEAN Patent Examination Co-operation (ASPEC). The ASPEC is the first regional patent work-sharing programme among nine ASEAN member states. The purpose of this programme is to share search and examination results to expedite the process of obtaining corresponding patents for applicants in participating countries. This potentially reduces bureaucracy and duplication on the search and examination work done, thereby saving time and effort.

Although other Asian patent offices are not teaming up in Asia, at Gateway Law (Singapore), we’re established and connected with the rest of the region. Our team comprises of patent specialists in countries such as Malaysia, Brunei, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Nepal, China, Pakistan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Laos, Thailand, Macau and Vietnam. This allows us to adopt a cutting edge approach and provide tailor-made IP strategies that drive competitive advantage in a constantly evolving marketplace.

How has Singapore’s IP regime been regarded internationally?

In the past decade, Singapore has made tremendous strides in the development of the IP landscape. The high international rankings for Singapore’s IP regime bear testament to this. Its IP regime has been consistently ranked among the top five in the world by the World Economic Forum and top 10 by the Institute for Management Development. According to the Global Innovation Index 2012 compiled by the INSEAD Business School in collaboration with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Singapore is Asia’s most innovative country. This suggests that Singapore has been perceived around the world as an IP hub.

What about Singapore’s IP infrastructure?

Singapore has a trusted legal system with an international reputation for transparency, efficiency and neutrality. Since 2002, we have had a specialised IP Court. In 2012, four fustices were formally designated as IP judges by the Supreme Court. Singapore has also developed strong IP arbitration capabilities. IPOS and WIPO are both collaborating to grow expertise in this area. IPOS has also developed an in-house search and examination team to provide search and examination services efficiently and at a competitive cost to inventors and companies filing in Singapore. Furthermore, the IP academy of Singapore is providing professional training to raise the level of expertise of IP professionals in Singapore. This multi-pronged approach adopted by Singapore ensures that it continues to be regarded highly as an IP hub capable of providing one-stop shop services for clients in Asia.

Moving forward, how is Singapore developing in the area of IP?

The government has identified IP as a new growth area for Singapore. To this end, the government convened an IP steering committee to formulate a master plan to guide Singapore’s development into a global IP hub in Asia. This signals an exciting prospect for Singapore in the next phase of development as it positions itself as a global IP hub, making this an attractive place to seek patent protection.

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