Govt looking at how small firms can enforce rights at less cost

Helping smaller businesses find a less costly way to enforce their rights over their designs is one of the things the Law Ministry is looking at, said Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah yesterday.

Her ministry has appointed a committee, with representatives from sectors such as the judiciary and academia, to review the intellectual property dispute resolution system in Singapore, Ms Indranee said.

She made the point in her wrap-up of the debate on the Registered Designs (Amendment) Bill, which was passed by Parliament in the first major change to the legislation since its enactment in 2000.

"The committee has made recommendations on how enforcement costs can be reduced," she said.

"My ministry is currently considering these recommendations in conjunction with our ongoing broad-based review of Singapore's civil justice system," she added in her reply to Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC).

He noted that infringement cases must be filed in the High Court, a move that may be too costly for small businesses and freelancers.

A key change passed yesterday broadens the scope of protected designs by clarifying that items designed by hand or otherwise - not just by industrial process - can be registered. Mr Tay had said: "Businesses and freelancers offering bespoke handcrafted products are usually smaller players in the market who would not have been able to seek protection under the Act as their designs are not applied to articles by industrial process."

Another change is the shifting of ownership of the design from the commissioning party to the designer, minimising instances of designers losing the rights over their designs.

But, said Mr Tay, efforts to widen the scope of protection will come to nothing if members of the public remain unaware of their rights.

Out of 4,268 designs filed at the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) in 2014, only 818 were filed by Singapore-based or local applicants, he noted. He urged the Government to work with the labour movement to raise designers' awareness of their rights.

Ms Indranee said Ipos regularly partners industry and design associates to raise awareness of registered design protection, and is also working with the Design Singapore Council on such efforts.

She will ask Ipos to work with the National Trades Union Congress' various units on raising awareness.

Ipos will also explore issuing guidance notes to address gaps in knowledge, such as the overlap between registered design protection and copyright protection, she added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2017, with the headline 'Govt looking at how small firms can enforce rights at less cost'. Print Edition | Subscribe