Mindef patent case: Dr Ting Choon Meng and TOC website 'made false claims'

Dr Ting's firm had sued Mindef for allegedly copying a patented concept for an emergency mobile clinic. The case was dropped last January.
Dr Ting's firm had sued Mindef for allegedly copying a patented concept for an emergency mobile clinic. The case was dropped last January.

Doctor who lost patent case, TOC failed to publish correction: Judge

HE HAD lost his patent case against the Ministry of Defence (Mindef). But that did not stop Dr Ting Choon Meng from airing his grievances to sociopolitical blog The Online Citizen (TOC).

Yesterday, both he and five people running the website were found to have made false statements in a 27-minute video interview and an article that was published on the TOC website in January.

District Judge Bala Reddy ordered that as long as the video interview is published, it must include a prominent notification - at the start and at the end of the video, and lasting at least 30 seconds each - that certain statements made by Dr Ting have since been declared by the courts to be false.

A similar requirement applies to the article, which was the remedy sought by the Attorney- General's Chambers, representing Mindef, under the new Protection from Harassment Act (POHA).

But the saga is not over. Dr Ting and TOC are appealing, with their lawyers arguing that the Act was never meant to cover such cases involving the Government.

Dr Ting's lawyer, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, said: "This is a judgment that stretches the reach of the harassment Act beyond what it was clearly intended to cover."

Dr Ting, the co-founder of medical devices firm MobileStats Technologies, claimed that Mindef had copied his patented concept for an emergency mobile clinic after speaking to him about it at a trade fair in 2005.

The vehicle is essentially a truck that opens up to become a resuscitation area with surgical equipment and emergency life-saving devices.

Dr Ting's firm decided to sue Mindef instead of Syntech Engineers, which manufactured and supplied the vehicles. He said he was forced to drop the case last January, claiming that the legal costs were too high.

A court then declared Dr Ting's patent invalid and revoked it.

He went to TOC to complain, among other things, about how Mindef had not just copied his patent, but also tried to financially wear him down by dragging out the case in court.

Judge Reddy yesterday called Dr Ting "a disgruntled man who is unable to come to terms with the fact that his Singapore patent is invalid". He pointed out that although Dr Ting had known from the start that the vehicle was manufactured by Syntech Engineers, he had deliberately ignored the facts at every turn and referred to Mindef as the party that infringed his patent.

Not only were his statements clearly "unsubstantiated and false", but he and TOC also failed to publish a correction. Dr Ting even went on to repeat his false statements in his affidavit to the court.

"Such aspersions on the integrity of Mindef and our public institutions, if left unchecked, will severely undermine public confidence," said the judge.

He also highlighted how Dr Ting's statements on social media that Mindef had connived to deliberately infringe his patent - despite the court ruling that there was never a valid patent in the first place - show that he had mounted a "collateral attack" on the court's final judgment.

The judge also ruled that the Government has the legal right to apply for an order under POHA.

The Act, which came into force last November, is meant to "protect persons against harassment and unlawful stalking".

The lawyers for Dr Ting and TOC argued that the word "person" does not include the Government. But the judge said that if the intention was for the word to mean only natural persons, it would lead to a situation where companies, for instance, will not be able to avail themselves of the remedies provided by the Act.

He also pointed out Section 3 of the Government Proceedings Act, which allows the Government to seek legal recourse as long as the claim, if it arose between private persons, provided a cause of action.

TOC's five respondents were Mr Lee Kwai Hou, who wrote the article "Inventor forced by Mindef to close company over patent rights"; executive editor Xu Yuen Chen; editor Loh Hong Puey; managing editor Choo Zheng Xi; and finance executive Lee Song Kwang.

elena@sph.com.sg