SINGAPORE - Businesses looking to register their intellectual property (IP) assets will soon find the process more streamlined and efficient, after Parliament approved changes to IP laws on Wednesday (Jan 12) to encourage greater use of such intangible assets by companies here.
The changes will, among other things, allow the partial acceptance of national trademark applications even when a portion of the trademark is being rejected, and improve the public's access to patent documents.
The Intellectual Property (Amendment) Bill, which proposes changes to multiple intellectual property statutes here, comes amid Singapore's push to become an IP hub, as the value of intangible assets like trademarks, patents and copyrights is eclipsing the value of physical assets globally.
Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong, referring to the rise of intangible assets during the debate, said: "This is significant, as it means that intangible assets are worth more than physical assets. In other words, ideas and innovations are more valuable than the physical assets that they animate."
Last year, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (Ipos) was recognised as the third-most innovative IP office in the world, behind the European Union Intellectual Property Office and the Korean Intellectual Property Office, sliding from its top spot in 2020.
In the region, more than 80 per cent of all requests under the Asean Patent Examination Cooperation programme rely on reports by Ipos, said Mr Tong.
He added that the amendments, a result of regular reviews by Ipos of its operations and processes, will refresh and update the IP registration process in Singapore and improve business-friendliness, operational efficiency and legislative and procedural clarity.
One of the changes will allow partial acceptance for national trademark applications, which is already allowed for international trademark applications.
Currently when businesses apply to protect a trademark, typically a recognisable sign like a brand logo, they can apply for the trademark across multiple types of goods.
However, if a similar trademark already exists for one particular type of good, the entire application could be held up.
By allowing partial acceptance, the trademark can be registered for the categories of goods and services in which there are no objections.
This move is expected to benefit 13 per cent - or approximately 2,100 applications - annually, said Mr Tong, noting that this is a common practice in other jurisdictions.
Another change in the Bill improves public access to patent documents.
Ipos launched the Patents Open Dossier in 2017 so that inventors and the public can better understand why patents were sought or had been granted in Singapore.
The change allows Ipos to make such documents available to the public, even if there are no requests for the documents.
Associate Professor Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC), speaking during the debate on the Bill, asked whether allowing partial acceptance of trademarks could dampen innovation instead of encouraging it.
Responding, Mr Tong said that if Singapore tries to reduce "the recognition of trademarks or curtail them or compromise them", it will have a knock-on impact on inventors wanting to bring their products into Singapore to obtain IP protection.
He added that a strong IP system that recognises invention is what will promote innovation, and going the opposite way could, in fact, drive away even incumbent businesses.
Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), meanwhile, asked if Singapore's IP strategy could be updated to include a focus on promoting innovation that can help fight climate change and protect the environment.
Mr Tong said the IP regime here has already been designed to support the development and use of emerging technologies, such as providing quicker protection for inventors working in fields with short technology life cycles.
Parliament yesterday passed the Bill which updates the Patents Act, the Trade Marks Act, the Registered Designs Act, the Plant Varieties Protection Act and the Geographical Indications Act 2014.
Mr Tong said the Government intends to implement the majority of the changes in May 2022.