5 questions with... PatSnap

PatSnap, the global patents database platform that provides what it calls 'innovation intelligence' to Fortune 500 companies, is building an R&D centre in Singapore. Marissa Lee speaks to PatSnap founder Jeffrey Tiong.

Chief technology officer Markus Haense (left), 32, is in charge of setting up PatSnap's R&D centre in Singapore. Mr Tiong, 33, started the company after working in IP analytics for a US company under an NUS overseas study scheme.
Chief technology officer Markus Haense (left), 32, is in charge of setting up PatSnap's R&D centre in Singapore. Mr Tiong, 33, started the company after working in IP analytics for a US company under an NUS overseas study scheme.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Q. How did PatSnap get started?

A. I was a biomedical engineer at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and there was a programme called NUS Overseas Colleges, where you could go overseas to learn about entrepreneurship, work at a local start-up and study part-time in a local business school.

I went to Philadelphia in 2006 to study at the Wharton School and work full-time in a local medical device company.

That was when I learnt about intellectual property (IP).

My role was in IP analytics. I helped the firm test its devices and did the IP due diligence. I managed all the IP it acquired, kept tabs on them to see whether they were still valid, whether there are any competitors out there doing similar things.

So that was my job back then. It was quite tedious. I found that there weren't any cost-effective tools for me to use, so after that experience, when I came back to Singapore in 2007, I started PatSnap straight out of college.

Q. How tedious is IP analytics?

A. For a non-law-trained or non-patent-trained person like me, a normal engineer, to read and understand patents, that is already a hurdle. I first had to study how to reconstruct a patent document. If you don't use paid tools like PatSnap now, you can go only to the public government websites, and you can go only to each country for its country patent database.

And for us, when we do this kind of analysis, we actually take a global approach - we look everywhere. So I would have to go to the US website, the China website, one by one, and different websites have very different languages, very different query systems. I had to learn all this just to come up with a comprehensive set of results.

And after getting the result, I would still need to do a lot of crunching, charting, data visualisation.

Q. Why did PatSnap move so quickly overseas?

A. For PatSnap, our business is research and development (R&D), so we follow the R&D dollar, where there're huge IP investments. I spend a third of my time in China, a third in London and a third in Singapore.

Initially, it was quite tough. In 2007 in Singapore, the whole funding environment was not so well-established. After a year or so, we received a $55,000 grant from the Media Development Authority.

The financial crisis hit in 2008, so that made it even harder after one year. I think the company wouldn't have survived if we had stayed in Singapore. So in 2009, I moved to China and we built our products there, and we started selling in Singapore in 2010. We sold our services to A*Star (Agency for Science, Technology and Research) and NUS - they were our first customers.

Q. Can you share more about the services PatSnap provides?

A. We analyse data sources that are available in the public domain, like patent data, journal data. We collect them, clean them up, curate them and apply machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence) technologies to make out of these billions of data one type of dashboard or report for our users. They can be soft drink companies, even banks.

For example, users can see in which areas their competitors have filed for patents, so they use our service to avoid litigation. Or if they see a start-up that is very active in one technology area, they might ask: Can I acquire it?

So we provide a technology roadmap.

Q. What are your expansion plans?

A. Globally, we have 450 people across Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou and London. We plan to grow to 900 people by the end of this year. We are setting up new offices in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, California and Australia.

Our R&D team is coming up with new AI techniques to make use of all this big data. We are also developing our own machine translation because patent language is so hard to understand for the layman.

We are working on a new innovation intelligence product. PatSnap started with patent intelligence products. But that shows you just one lens of innovation. You also need to consider journal papers and government funding that supports business projects.

The new product we are working on will consider all that data and give users a 360-degree view of the innovation landscape.

So if you type "telehealth", for example, you'll know that Google has been working on this, a few start-ups in Denmark, et cetera.

To launch an initial public offering has been my personal goal since day one: To start in Singapore and take the company to list in the United States.

My dream is to ring the bell in the New York Stock Exchange.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2017, with the headline '5 questions with... PatSnap'. Print Edition | Subscribe