Can you tell me a bit about your background?
I am from the US - I studied mechanical engineering and also got my JD there. After I graduated from law school, I went into private practice for several years. After that I joined Procter & Gamble in Japan, where I focused on patent-related matters in the APAC region.
In 2009 I joined Syngenta here in Singapore where I hold the role of lead IP counsel APAC, which for us means South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), ASEAN, China, as well as Australia and New Zealand , Japan, Korea, Taiwan. I am part of the global IP team and also the regional legal team. My strategic responsibilities include protection and leverage of our IP in the region and building the regional footprint of IP.
Also, it might be helpful for me to talk a bit about Syngenta. Syngenta’s products and offers can help address one of the planet’s most challenging dilemmas: how to grow more crops using fewer resources. Our ambition is to bring greater food security in an environmentally sustainable way to an increasingly populous world by creating a worldwide step-change in farm productivity. Our ambition encompasses the 8 million large farms worldwide with over 100 hectares as well as the 450 million small farms with 2 hectares or less.
Can you talk a bit more about strategic IP management? Do you oversee things like patent prosecution?
Syngenta believes in the fundamental role of protecting intellectual property to stimulate innovation necessary to address the increasing challenges facing agriculture. An efficient and fair IP system helps to balance the interests of the inventor and society by helping to pay for research costs and contributing to sharing knowledge which stimulates further research and development. The protection of IP is essential to any research based business with long term investment if it wants to stay commercially viable.
Keeping track of new legislation, case law and other developments around the region and analysing how they may affect Syngenta's business plays a role in business operations.
As such, the global team handles our patent portfolios, our filing and prosecution. I am more involved in, for example, business-facing interactions to provide advice and counselling around the IP issues in various situations, such as enforcement, transactions involving intellectual property, protecting proprietary information, leveraging IP assets and product lifecycle management strategies among others.
My role also helps to ensure that the local business can effectively leverage our global IP centres of expertise. For example, if there is a new product launch in a local market, or a new innovation that we need to file on, the global IP team typically has the best view of the state of the art and so we don’t need to start from scratch in the region. Another example would be to ensure that our regional business teams understand and adhere to global trade mark usage guidelines and best practices, even or maybe especially where we are using local script trade marks.
IP-related risk management is also an area of involvement. Keeping track of new legislation, case law and other developments around the region and analysing how they may affect Syngenta's business plays a role in business operations.
Which countries are taking up the most of your attention?
The APAC is region is dynamic and each country poses its unique challenges and opportunities.
As an example, I’ve mentioned that we are active in enforcement related activities. A challenge that we see in several countries is that while there are actually robust IP laws in place on the books, the enforcement in practice or the penalties actually administered may not be sufficient to deter further IP infringement. Also, counterfeited products pose a serious threat to the safety of consumers, growers and the environment. Syngenta constantly monitors the markets and takes appropriate steps against illegal activities, while cooperating closely with the authorities.
Another example of a topic important to Syngenta is biodiversity. Some countries have specific legislation implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity and others don't. In addition, helping biodiversity to flourish is one of the commitments of Syngenta’s Good Growth Plan.
Has the new Chinese Trademark Law, which came into effect in 2014, had an effect on your enforcement efforts?
Syngenta is always open to seeing revisions that aim to improve law and regulation and make it more robust. For example, the revised law provides for availability of enhanced damages.
You mentioned biodiversity issues earlier. What are some of the challenges that you face there?
This is a complex area. As I said earlier, compliance with the various biodiversity laws and regulations is one aspect, and another is the IP touchpoints in these regulations and the related laws, such as getting approval from the relevant authority before filing patents involving subject biological resources or disclosure of origin.
Most countries have plant variety protection laws, and some though fewer also provide patent protection. In some countries, there is a certain opposition to patents on plant-related innovation.
In terms of IP protection for plant and breeding innovations, according to TRIPs, signatory countries have to provide some mechanism to protect these innovations. Therefore, most countries have plant variety protection laws, and some though fewer also provide patent protection. In some countries, there is a certain opposition to patents on plant-related innovation.
In terms of effort to internationalise the protection of plant varieties, you have the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), which is an international organisation based in Geneva that oversees the UPOV Convention. UPOV is not a treaty, but members agree to be bound. There are three different revisions to the Convention, and then some countries, several in APAC, opt for sui generis, non-UPOV legislation. At any rate, robust protection of plant related inventions and new varieties can also serve as a foundation for the development of local breeding industries.
There's also the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resource for Food and Agriculture which, for some crops, offers an alternative to the Convention on Biological Diversity, because of its standardised rules for access and benefit sharing. This illustrates the challenge of making sure that our technology is leveraged in a way that gets us fair returns, but that also makes it possible that the technology gets out there and people can benefit from it.
What do you look for in outside counsel?
Outside counsel have an important role in our success. Engaging with us in order to understand our business drivers and challenges, efficiently protecting and defending our IP, helping us with foresight on issues and increasing our licence to operate, and sharing best practices between industries are enablers to achieving our goals.