What is your role at IPOS? What do you like about it?
|Photo credit: IPOS
My job is essentially to help drive innovation in Singapore
through IP. Given the nature of our industry and community,
this invariably means taking a deep interest in, and even
shaping, the regional and global IP and innovation
As one of the central nodes in Asia, Singapore has witnessed
and participated in tremendous changes in this part of the
world. One billion people were lifted out of poverty in Asia in
the past two decades, and there is a now a middle class hungry
for brands, content and technology. This has translated into an
exponential growth in IP filings – increases in PCT,
and Madrid filings are now driven by Asian countries.
Attitudes towards IP have changed drastically as well. As
the chairperson of the IP negotiations in the TPP Agreement, I
saw first-hand how developing countries evolved their thinking
on IP in the course of the negotiations, to ultimately
appreciate it as a powerful tool for economic development.
Closer to home, Singapore's innovation sector has also been
turbo-charged by a strong interest in start-ups. We have close
to 60,000 and they have added a buzz to the scene, alongside
our continued investments in R&D which include a
government-funded S$19 billion plan for R&D initiatives in
the next five years. There's also strong interest in fintech,
and we just pioneered the world's first driverless taxis.
It's therefore really exciting to be right at the heart of a
fast-growing sector of a dynamic region of the world, and work
with partners in government, industry and academia to think
about how IP can improve the lives of people, and generate
further economic vibrancy.
On top of this, the fun part of IPOS is that we take care of
not just the patents and trade mark regimes, but also
copyrights and designs. We straddle the economic and social
communities, and this allows us to reach out to a much broader
stakeholder base beyond industry, to individual creators and
designers. For example, during the World IP Day celebrations
this year, we organised a whole series of events around the
"Eat, Live and Love IP" theme, and transformed our customer
centre into a bazaar to showcase and support local creators.
Other economic agencies in Singapore don't get to do fun things
like this! All in all, IP is a fun community because many
people, even the veterans, remain young at heart, and
understand the life-changing elements of innovation, as well as
the power of partnership and collaboration.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Taking on the chairmanship of the TPP IP negotiations has
been a major highlight of my time at IPOS, even if this
happened before I took over as the chief executive. The sheer
diversity of political, social and economic environments and
different approaches to IP and innovation amongst the 12
nations made it extremely challenging. I remarked more than
once to the chief negotiators that the experience felt like
herding 12 cats through a maze! Despite the difficulties, the
concluded Chapter speaks for itself – it is a
comprehensive agreement, covering all the major types of IP.
The disciplines are deeper than TRIPs, but there are balances
and flexibilities in sensitive areas. The fact that 12
countries at varying stages of economic growth and development
have signed on to it, reflects its potential as a template for
Another milestone was launching IP²SG, IPOS's
integrated e-services portal, as part of IPOS's drive to
deliver world-class and customer-friendly services to our
customers. IP²SG merged what was previously several
separate IP e-filing systems into a single user-friendly
platform. It has provided greater efficiency in IP filings for
our customers, cut down the number of processes and forms that
our applicants need to undertake, and allowed us to add new
functions such as giving businesses the opportunity to apply
for a website domain name and trade make at the same time.
Making IP more accessible to our businesses and people is a
very fulfilling endeavour.
One achievement that is especially dear to me is Singapore's
accession to the Marrakesh Treaty. Singapore was the seventh in
the world to do so, and the adjustments to our copyright regime
have given our visually or reading disabled community greater
access to copyrighted materials. IP is often connected to
economic objectives, but it can also achieve social goals, such
as empowering the disadvantaged in our community.
What are your plans for the future for IPOS?
Since taking office in November last year, a lot of my
energy has been dedicated to working with my colleagues to
re-purpose IPOS. We started out as a Registry and the regulator
of our IP regime, but we are now focused on helping to drive
the commercialisation of IP, and supporting domestic
innovation. The key message is that IP is not just about law;
it is about business. This evolution of our role, which I
believe is the natural trajectory of all IP offices, will allow
us to truly become an IP Hub in Asia. More specifically, IPOS
will focus our energies on four key areas in the coming
The first is delivering world-class services to our users,
so that obtaining IP protection is, quick, efficient and easy.
The application process must never be an obstacle to people who
are seeking to protect their IP. We are fortunate in Singapore
that there is a strong push to use IT and adopt e-government
initiatives to improve public services. However, IT is only
part of the solution – the key challenge is to
re-think processes. For example, why do agencies still require
forms to be filled up? Are there other ways of initiating an
official action? We are exploring some creative answers to
these questions and we hope to roll out some interesting
solutions in the next few years that will delight our
The second is refreshing our IP regime continually, to
ensure that it remains fit for purpose in encouraging
innovation. While Singapore's IP regime is already one of the
top-ranked in the world, with studies such as the recent Global
Innovation Index 2016 ranking us as first in Asia and sixth
worldwide, we must proactively improve our regime to create an
environment that supports innovation. This drive is behind our
recent reviews of the registered design and copyright regimes
The third is building IP expertise and skills, to create
good jobs and develop professionals to help companies take
their ideas to the market with IP. Local IP experts will be
trained to serve the demand for these skills as local
innovation gains even more momentum. Our latest initiative in
this regard is our partnership with fellow government agency,
the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), and a local
university, UniSIM, to offer a new graduate programme in IP and
innovation management, leading ultimately to a masters
The fourth and final area is developing a vibrant IP
ecosystem for the future economy, with more cutting-edge
players and services in the innovation market. The global
economy is in need of entities that can service the IP needs of
modern, tech-rich but asset-light companies. We also need a new
generation of financiers and valuers who are prepared to value
and provide cutting-edge financing options around the portfolio
of intangible assets, including IP. Intermediaries are also
needed – patent banks and aggregators have become
quite popular in places such as the US, Korea and France, and
Singapore should attract such players into the market as well.
All in all, we are a strong contender to grow in these areas,
with our standing as an R&D centre, a global financial hub,
our excellent business and legal infrastructure, strong bank of
professionals and venue neutrality.
What is IPOS doing to promote IP awareness in Singapore and
more broadly in the region?
Regionally, IPOS is an active member of the ASEAN Working
Group on Intellectual Property Cooperation (AWGPIC), and
regularly hosts regional capacity building activities, such as
the ASEAN Community of Practice for Patent Examiners. The WIPO
Singapore Office, which celebrated its 10th
anniversary last year, continues to work closely with us in
actively organising seminars and training sessions for IP
professionals and policy-makers throughout the region. Through
our training arm, IP Academy, we also provide in-depth training
and executive education courses, not just within Singapore, but
also to countries such as China, through our partnerships and
collaborations with educational institutes in these
In Singapore, our public engagement activities range from
having IP concepts introduced to students as part of their
school curriculum and assembly period programming, to having an
integrated one-stop services centre, IP 101, which offers a
suite of products and services for members of the public to
learn about and file IP. Annually, Singapore celebrates World
IP Day through lifestyle events that raise public awareness on
how innovation and creativity is all around us, improves the
quality of our lives, and deserves our respect and support.
IPOS also awards the WIPO-IPOS IP Awards yearly, in
collaboration with WIPO, to recognise outstanding organisations
in Singapore that leverage on their IP to achieve success.
All of our initiatives are guided by a desire to further the
understanding and appreciation of IP, celebrate innovators and
creators, and serve the cross-border flow of ideas and
What are the aims behind the new graduate programme in
IP expertise is one of the key enablers in today's
innovation-based economy but is in short supply all over the
world. The graduate programme in IP and innovation management
will groom and develop industry-ready, globally competitive IP
expertise in Singapore, whether they are mid-career entrants or
just about to embark on their professional careers. Graduates
from this practice-oriented programme will be able to practise
in various phases of the IP lifecycle, and in a wide range of
roles, from upstream IP creation and protection activities, to
downstream IP commercialisation and exploitation activities. We
see them as future patent agents, IP managers and strategists,
CTOs and chief IP officers, playing crucial roles in the IP and
innovation community in Singapore and beyond.
|Ng Cher Pong (chief executive,
Singapore Workforce Development Agency), Daren Tang and
Professor Cheong Hee Kita (president, SIM University) at
the launch of the masters in innovation and IP management
What kinds of topics will the programme cover?
The programme is multi-disciplinary, combining the law,
business and technology domains, and will be offered out of
UniSIM's business school. The courses (or modules) are wide
ranging. Building on a common core foundation in IP law and IP
management, students may progress on to modules and electives
covering topics such as intellectual assets management, IP
business and strategy, IP monetisation and technology
assessment. Unlike a traditional course, the modules are
focused on building skills and practical knowledge. Classes
will be conducted around office hours to cater to working
adults. Students are also offered a six-month industry
internship, which will give them further opportunities to apply
the IP skills they have acquired.
How many students do you expect to do the programme?
UniSIM will be taking in the first batch of students, which
is expected to be around 25 to 30 students, in July 2017. The
numbers are naturally small as skill-based courses will require
a far more intense faculty/trainer-to-student ratio. We are
confident that the graduates, along with all professionals who
are deeply skilled in IP, will have a strong multiplier effect
in whichever organisation they serve in.
What issues will be addressed in the review of Singapore's
The review of our copyright regime is now in the public
consultation phase, where members of the public are invited to
share their thoughts and feedback on a set of proposed changes.
Broadly-speaking, the key changes proposed address two
Firstly, changes have been proposed to provide creators with
greater recognition and practical protection. This
- Having creators own the copyright in
certain specific works they are commissioned to create,
unless they agree otherwise.
- Giving creators a right of attribution
that will allow them to ask to be credited as the creators of
their work, regardless of whether they still own the
Secondly, recommendations have been put forward in order for
our copyright regime to adapt to modern developments. Some
- Allowing not-for-profit schools to
continue to develop and enhance their pedagogy using digital
tools and the internet. For example, teachers and students
will be able to fully utilise online student portals to
reproduce and share content to enhance learning.
- Letting everyone, subject to certain
conditions, use orphan works even though the owner cannot be
identified and contacted for consent.
- Permitting text and data mining for the
purposes of data analysis. This is intended to support the
growth of the data analytics business sector.
Why are copyright reforms necessary?
The technological advancements of recent years have brought
about a transformation in the ways that copyrighted works are
created, distributed, accessed and used. To support creativity
and innovation, copyright law has to keep pace with these
modern developments. The current review aims to ensure that
Singapore maintains a copyright environment that benefits both
creators and users, with rights that are reasonable, clear and
capable of being efficiently transacted.
Finally, what part is IPOS playing in ASEAN cooperation and
how do you see this developing in the coming years?
Singapore is part of the ASEAN Working Group on Intellectual
Property (AWGIPC), which aims to transform ASEAN into an
innovative and competitive region through the use of IP. As a
member state and chair for the working group from 2013-2015,
IPOS was able to play a strong facilitative role in driving
strategic regional efforts, such as the development of the
ASEAN IP Rights Action Work Plan 2011-2015. One key AWGIPC
initiative is the ASEAN Patent Examination Cooperation (ASPEC),
a work-sharing programme that allows a patent application
before one office to be used to accelerate the same application
before another office, reducing cost and waiting time to obtain
a patent in the region. This is an important development for
ASEAN, seeing as total patent applications in the region are on
the rise, increasing about 50% in the past decade from over
25,000 applications in 2004 to over 40,000 applications in
IPOS is also the country champion and host of the ASEAN IP
Portal, which provides a platform for the regional countries to
share IP-related information, host regional e-services such as
e-ASPEC, and create an online community for the policy makers
and industry practitioners to network and exchange best
practices. We are also pursuing intra-ASEAN co-operative
arrangements. Earlier this year, we announced an agreement with
Cambodia to allow for the re-registration of Singapore patents
in Cambodia. The regulations and processes to put this in place
have been concluded, and applicants can now apply for their
patents to be valid in Cambodia as well.
All these initiatives have added urgency because as of
December 31 2015, the ASEAN Economic Community came into being.
According to the OECD, the annual growth rate for ASEAN is
projected to average over 5% from 2014-2030, compared to 2.4%
for USA and 1.5% in the Euro area. ASEAN is the seventh largest
economy in the world, with a total population of about 625
million, and a combined GDP amounting to US$2.4 trillion.
We are seeing greater interest in ASEAN from overseas
partners for various reasons, including increased costs in
current manufacturing centres, as well as a deepened focus by
Chinese and Japanese companies in the ASEAN growth story. To
support the development in trade, investment and technology
locally and beyond, IPOS will strengthen and pursue more of
such regional collaborations, leveraging on our traditional
role as an entry point into the ASEAN region, and building upon
our evolving role as a global IP partner for today's
Managing IP is a media partner of IP Week, hosted by
IPOS in Singapore in August 2016