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Creating Asia’s IP hub




Daren Tang, IPOS chief executive, answers Managing IP’s questions about IP reform in Singapore, the TPP and ASEAN

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 landscape.

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 other FTAs.

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 years.

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 customers.

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 in Singapore.

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 degree.

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 countries.

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 technology.

What are the aims behind the new graduate programme in IP?

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.

ipos
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 programme.

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 copyright regime?

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 important issues.

Firstly, changes have been proposed to provide creators with greater recognition and practical protection. This includes:

  • 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 copyright.

Secondly, recommendations have been put forward in order for our copyright regime to adapt to modern developments. Some examples include:

  • 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 2014.

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 innovation-driven economy.

Managing IP is a media partner of IP Week, hosted by IPOS in Singapore in August 2016


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