HDB did not infringe clothes rack patent of inventor: Court

The judge said HDB's rack (above) does not act as a safety rail to stop someone from falling out of the window - a key feature of Mr Yiap's patent.
The judge said HDB's rack (above) does not act as a safety rail to stop someone from falling out of the window - a key feature of Mr Yiap's patent.PHOTO: HDB

Judge rules its clothes-drying device is not similar to inventor's design

An inventor who sued the Housing Board, for what he said was an infringement on his patent for an external clothes-drying rack, has lost his case against the public housing authority.

Dismissing the suit brought by Mr Yiap Hang Boon, 54, the High Court yesterday ruled that HDB has not infringed his patent as its rack is not similar to the one he designed. In particular, Justice Chan Seng Onn found that HDB's rack does not act as a safety rail to prevent someone from falling out of the window, which is one of the main features of Mr Yiap's patent.

The judge added that Mr Yiap is barred from bringing the suit as he has passed the statutory time limit of six years.

Mr Yiap filed his suit last year, more than a decade after he first accused HDB of patent infringement.

The court also granted HDB's countersuit to revoke Mr Yiap's patent on the grounds that it was not an invention that can be patented. Justice Chan, who looked at clothes-drying racks in existence before Mr Yiap's patent took effect, found "no inventive step" in the one he devised.

Mr Yiap, who is jobless, was ordered to pay legal costs and expenses of $160,000 to HDB. He said he has no money as he sold his house and closed down a company he started to develop his racks.

The racks in question are stainless steel frames with parallel poles supported by two arms, mounted to the external wall.

In late 2000, HDB issued architectural drawings of clothes racks to shortlisted tender applicants for a flat upgrading project in Toa Payoh. HDB, represented by Mr Darrell Low, said it developed its own racks after a review to address safety concerns over bamboo poles falling from the higher floors when strong winds blew.

In January 2001, Mr Yiap filed his first patent, which later lapsed, for a rack that can be inserted into pole holders. He wrote to HDB, proposing that his racks be used in upgraded flats. HDB rejected his request six months later. In February 2003, Mr Yiap filed a further patent application, a modification of the earlier one - the subject of the current case.

selinal@sph.com.sg