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Singapore’s plans to become an IP hub for Asia were bolstered this week by proposals that will bring some significant changes to its patent law. The Patents (Amendment) Bill was introduced in parliament on Monday, and will open up the patent profession to foreign practitioners for the first time, and improve the quality of domestic patent filings.
Noting the growth in patenting worldwide, and particularly in Asia, a statement from the Ministry of Law says: “These developments present opportunities for Singapore to position itself as an Asian IP hub to service the growth in demand for IP services, and to become a key node for patent agency work. To do this, it is important for Singapore to strengthen our patent regime and develop world-class IP infrastructure that will meet the needs of inventors and businesses.”
One of the key changes will see the patent industry opened to practitioners from outside Singapore. Foreign patent agents will no longer need to become locally-qualified – in the past, anyone wanting to practise in Singapore had to spend several years studying for a certificate in IP law, pass a number of exams, and also do an internship with a local firm. Some restrictions remain: overseas agents will only be permitted to engage in off-shore work; though, as Singapore is a small IP marketplace this is not likely to be a great problem. These changes have been driven in part by feedback from local organisations such as Nanyang Technological University and the Agency for Science Technology and Research. They had complained that there was not a large enough selection of firms in Singapore with the necessary patent drafting and litigation experience, particularly in specialised technology fields.
The intention behind the proposed changes is that highly skilled IP professionals from across Asia and beyond will relocate to Singapore, where they will be ideally located to handle patent work for the whole Asia region. Singapore has a mature legal and financial system that foreign agents are likely to be comfortable with, and with close links to Malaysia, Indonesia and beyond, in principle, it could prove to be an ideal base for IP practitioners with Asia-wide interests. Assuming that overseas patent agents are encouraged to move in significant numbers, this should lead to a considerable enhancement of the depth and breadth of IP knowledge and experience on offer in the country.
Another important change in the bill is an improvement to Singapore’s own patent registration system, which will see it move from self assessment to “positive grant”. This means in practice that for the first first time, only patent applications which fully meet patentability criteria can be granted, so raising quality and bringing the patent office into line with international standards, thereby increasing confidence in the IP system.
The proposed changes to the patent law follow other measures which have already been put in place. The government has formed a steering committee to drive its “IP Hub Masterplan”; meanwhile a recent move has seen Singapore’s groundbreaking IP Academy become part of the Singapore IP office, as “part of a a wider plan to building world-class IP capabilities and infrastructure so as to anchor Singapore as an IP hub of Asia”.
The Singaporean government is clearly very determined in its attempts to establish itself as Asia’s IP hub, and the relaxation of restrictions on foreign patent agents is an important step in the process. However, whether these changes will be enough to tempt the sort of experienced global players needed to turn Singapore into an international IP centre remains to be seen. The local patent bar, meanwhile, will have to prepare itself for much greater levels of competition. In the short term, practitioners may not like it, but longer term they are likely to benefit if Singapore does become the IP hub it so wants to be.
IP management, IP politics, Patents, IP business