Tan is intent on building an IP hub in Singapore
It's an unusual career move, but for Tan Yih San a logical
one. On June 1 last year, he
became chief executive of the Intellectual Property Office
of Singapore, retiring from the Singapore Armed Forces,
following a 26-year career that took him to the rank of
brigadier. With a bachelor of science degree in physics, Tan
was always interested in new technologies and immediately
before joining IPOS worked in developing emerging technologies
and investing in start-up companies, with a view to boosting
the defence budget.
It meant, he says, that he saw IP "from the customer's
angle". Now he is putting that to use as he seeks to reorient
the IP system in Singapore – and beyond – and
in particular to build what the government calls an "IP hub" in
the country. "IP is the means to an innovative and inventive
economy," he tells Managing IP, adding that the country can
build on its history as a trading and financial centre to
promote research and IP knowledge.
That meant taking "a fundamental look" at the office when he
arrived, and then setting out three tasks: strengthening the IP
regime, building linkages and developing a marketplace for
transactions. A year on, work is underway on all three tasks.
First, registration will become more efficient and cheaper with
Singapore introducing what it calls a
positive-grant system for patents. Accompanying this will
be an emphasis on the quality of search and examination, which
will require some expansion in the Office's resources. Tan also
draws on his previous experiences to emphasise the importance
of patent mapping in identifying R&D gaps.
Second, Singapore is building links internationally, with
pilot patent-prosecution highways with countries including
Japan and the US. It has also said that it will allow
overseas patent agents to act in Singapore.
has an important role to play to "bridge the gap" where
the private sector cannot deliver in creating
But the third task is the most interesting. Tan says the
government has an important role to play to "bridge the gap"
where the private sector cannot deliver in creating
marketplaces. This includes work on IP valuation and creating
incentives, such as through taxation. "Singapore is already a
trading hub, with a trusted legal system and a very efficient
financial system. We want to see how we can add value to that
from an IP perspective," he says. That means identifying the
needs of the various consumers, from individual inventors to
the 7,000 and growing multinational companies that have a
presence in Singapore. "The world of innovation is rapidly
evolving," says Tan, pointing specifically to the growth of
technology licensing and cross-licensing.
To get the word out about its various initiatives, IPOS is
hosting a range of events and discussions. This month, for
example, saw IP Week @
SG, comprising two complementary events with a range of
speakers. Other events
take place throughout the year, aimed at businesses,
professionals and the general public, and cover both IP
strategy and awareness. In a
speech last year, Tan said that "demystifying IP" is a core
task for IP offices, and highlighted three emerging trends:
"The first is to create buy-in for an increasingly buoyant
youth. The second is to enthuse the preoccupied working
populace. And third is to capitalise on the great flow of
information through cyberspace in which the assignment of
property rights is non-territorial and the duplicative effort
is near zero."
With all this activity, Tan is a busy man. So busy, in fact,
that he confesses he has not had time lately to practise his
golf swing, despite being chairman of one of Singapore's clubs.
The consequence is that his handicap has risen from 10 to
"about 18". Getting it back down again might have to wait a few
years, until this ambitious programme to build a new IP hub in
Asia is complete.
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