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Where is Asia’s IP hub?

Peter Leung

In the race to become Asia’s IP centre, Singapore appears to be taking the lead, but like all matters in the global marketplace, you can never rule out China

Last week the IP Office of Singapore (IPOS) announced that it will invest S$65 million ($53 million) this year on its IP Competency Framework to develop the city-state’s IP expertise.

The framework focuses on training IP professionals in five categories: legal advisory, drafting and prosecution, technology advisory, intelligence and strategy, and financial services. IPOS plans to set up a programme to certify and qualify training providers, and will aim to launch up to 55 courses this year. IPOS states the programme will add 2,000 such jobs in the next eight to 10 years.

Since announcing plans to be Asia’s IP hub over ten years ago, Singapore has been comprehensively strengthening different aspects of its IP ecosystem. It has built on the strength of its highly educated workforce and reliable legal system by setting up the IP Academy back in 2002 and partnering with WIPO’s Arbitration and Mediation Center. Last year, it changed to a positive grant patent system, opened up the market for foreign agents, and trained the first batch of its own patent examiners. Tax planners also say that various tax credits make it an attractive place for R&D and locating IP rights.

Hong Kong, another city with ambitions to be a centre for intellectual property, has not made as many major moves. Rather than an all-encompassing plan like Singapore’s, it has focused on becoming an IP trading centre. Peter Cheung of the Hong Kong Intellectual Property Department argues that Hong Kong is ideal for IP trading, with its well-developed legal system and strong services sector. It is also seen as a gateway into China. To this end, Cheung has been working with private exchanges such as IPEXC.

The plan has potential and Cheung has been working tirelessly to promote it, but Hong Kong’s relatively limited focus may put it at a disadvantage. This is notable given the similarities between the two cities; for example, though both are known for their service sectors, only Singapore is taking steps to train professionals specifically for IP servicing. Even the announcement in February that Hong Kong will switch to an original grant patent system and build in-house examination capacity has it playing catch up.

Hong Kong and Singapore’s push into IP servicing stems in part from the fact that both are small markets with few natural resources, but the third player can be found in mainland China, one that faces no such limitations. Lu Guoqiang of the Shanghai IP Administration also says that his city’s strength in finance and services make it an ideal IP hub. Francis Gurry has praised the city’s 10-year plan for IP as a “move in the right direction that will open up the Asia-Pacific region to WIPO and the whole world”. Lu hopes that one result of his work will be WIPO opening a regional office in Shanghai.

Of course, Shanghai’s ambitions are closely linked to China’s National IP Strategy, which appears to be entering its next phase to promote sustainable innovation. Though Singapore is making big moves right now, it will be quite interesting to see what Shanghai will do next.


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