Stricter system for patents from 2020

Singapore's patent system will be tweaked to better support innovators, in a move to promote innovation and further the country's economic growth.

Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah yesterday laid out the reasoning behind a Bill that requires patent applications filed in Singapore to go through a more stringent examination procedure from Jan 1, 2020.

The Bill, which also gives inventors a grace period to disclose their creations publicly before a patent is granted, was passed yesterday.

Said Ms Indranee: "It is part of our efforts to better support the national innovation agenda by helping companies protect and sharpen their competitive edge, grow, and create good jobs in Singapore."

Enterprises must be able to effectively protect and commercialise their intellectual property (IP) to preserve their competitive edge - a point the Committee on the Future Economy recognised when it stated that a strong IP ecosystem is needed to support innovation and technology adoption, she said.

Under the Bill, all patent applications filed in Singapore will have to go through an examination by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) to ensure the idea is new and has industrial applicability, among other things.

Currently, some patents are obtained via a foreign route, where examination and a search to obtain information relevant to the invention, are done overseas.

The foreign route will be scrapped come 2020, to improve the quality of patents granted in Singapore. This is "so that all patent applications are fully examined by our examiners against our standards of patentability", said Ms Indranee.

While all patents must be examined by the IPOS once the foreign route is discontinued, the search process can still be conducted by either IPOS or a foreign patent office.

Another key change grants inventors a grace period of 12 months prior to their patent applications to disclose their inventions publicly.

This allows them to attract investors, or publish scientific papers, without waiting for a patent - which typically takes two to three years to be granted.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) welcomed the changes.

Mr Ng said they strike a balance between strengthening the IP system in Singapore, and recognising that the excessive protection of inventions that are not truly novel can hinder enterprise.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'Stricter system for patents from 2020'. Print Edition | Subscribe