Intellectual Property (IP) Singapore: A Complete Guide


 What next after developing your new invention?

Before you even think of bringing it to light and screaming about your success from the rooftop, you have to figure out how to best protect what you worked so hard to develop.

Trademarks or copyrights will offer you a sense of security. What they won’t do is completely protect your design. However, there are other options that you might want to look into.

Today, in this post, the team at MediaOne will be weighing in on some less common, but effective ways to protect your intellectual property.

But first,

What Is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is the intangible property that entails inventions and creations of the mind. These can be inventions, designs, trade names, artistic works and others.

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As soon as you start your business, consider protecting your intellectual property as a core function. The good news is that there are laws that safeguard these properties. It’s possible to use these laws to prohibit other entities from infringing on your intellectual properties.

Intellectual property laws exist to preserve existing inventions. Indeed, these laws encourage the creation of diverse intellectual goods. These rules enable property creators and inventors to enjoy the information and the potential of the property they create for a specified duration. As such, a business owner can profit from the intellectual goods they innovate without external interference.

Some of the intellectual property categories include:

  • Trademarks

A trademark is a graphically or physically identifiable mark that differentiates goods or services from one company from another. It can be a name, a logo, a shape, packaging or a combination of colours that identify a given brand. Trademarks are registered with a validity of ten years. After successfully registering a trademark, no other entity or individual has the right to use the trademark or any other mark that has been deceptively created to mimic yours.

  • Copyright

Copyright is intellectual property in the form of artistic works. These can be books, software, music, paintings, films and fashion items, among others.  Copyright validity depends on the kind of art or work in question. From dramatic or artistic works, copyright duration can be throughout the lifetime of the artist and 50 years after he/she dies. Films and audio recordings can last 60 years from the date of authoring.

  • Patents

A patent refers to the invention of a product or process that is new. It has to involve an innovative step that can be transformed into an industrial application. Patents can be registered by an individual or a group of inventors to whom it has been assigned. Patents last for 20 years from the date of filing though it is a renewable property. Patents come in three categories: utility, design and plant patents.

  • Trade secrets

Trade secrets refer to intellectual property that are business formulas, instruments, recipes, practices, or secret information. The business owner goes a long way to keep such knowledge a secret, given that it provides substantial economic value. In context, a company has a confidentiality clause for its employees such that they’re prohibited from disclosing any sensitive info to competitors. Trade secrets don’t have to be registered, but the business needs to show that the information is highly confidential as trade secrets.

  • Industrial Design Rights

An industrial design right or a design patent safeguards the visual design of property that isn’t utilitarian. Industrial design revolves around the creation of shapes, configuration and compilation of colours in 3D. It can be 2D or 3D. The design protects that which makes a product more desirable while increasing its commercial value.

Do You Need to Invest in Intellectual Property?

Think of the intellectual property as a company’s most valuable assets. Its common knowledge that businesses spend vast resources to create, promote and market these resources. It’s crucial to note that Intellectual property laws are multifaceted, and they evolve now and then.

Even before you contemplate an intellectual property strategy, it’s crucial to understand how you can benefit from safeguarding your extraordinary invention. Indeed, a carefully crafted intellectual property strategy should protect your property from infringement. The big-league companies sink huge budgets to manage their IP creations, but how can a start-up pull off a similar feat?

Start-ups need to know that building and maintaining a rich IP portfolio takes time and money. You’ll realise that you might get caught up in promoting your business to prospects at the expense of getting their ideas patented. It’s essential to start thinking about whether safeguarding your IP creations can help you scale.

A start-up can gain exceptional benefits from protecting their assets. To survive in a highly competitive market, you’ll need to grow an IP portfolio that is innovation packed, diverse and wit the potential to help your business gain a competitive edge.

Remember, a robust intellectual property portfolio will help you to attract funding while building business credibility. The noble thing to do is to identify your IP assets and consider protecting them as time goes.

Intellectual Property: Importance for Enterprises and SMEs

Singaporean business-a majority of them perceive intellectual property as another concept. If you do not appreciate your Intellectual Property (IP) and its potential, it can affect your business viability and opportunities in the long term.

To reap the benefits of intellectual property, you’d instead start seeing the concept as a powerful business development tool. Think about it this way; your unprotected IP asset/ideas fall in the hands of a competing company that has a better commercialisation power. You’ll end up losing, and your business won’t gain any financial reward for an asset you’ve spent a fortune to promote.

  • Deters Possible Infringement

Of the many benefits, your start-up reaps from protecting business creations is the deterring possible infringement and transforming business ideas into tangible profit.

  • Generates Income

Capitalising on IP protection system mean a business can generate income from the commercialisation, sale and licensing of IP products. If there’s a demand for such products and services, the start-up gains larger market share and business credibility. Investors won’t hesitate to chip in should the small business require funds to expand through IP expansion.

Previously, a company’s fixed assets account for its value as an entity. Enter IP assets, and you know they can drive growth and competitiveness. As long as your business appreciates IP potentiality, it’s easy to compete side by side with the big box firms.

  • Keep Your Ideas

Let’s say you’ve idealised a highly practical concept. Before you know it, a large number of competitors will be craving to duplicate it. To thwart their schemes, you can turn to patents, trademarks or copyrights to stop them from profiting illegally from your ideas. To get a better idea, the smartphone lawsuits between Apple and Samsung should give you an impression.

  • Protect Business Growth

Start-ups face challenges, growth and revenue-wise. If you’ve patented a rich invention, it can turn around such a situation. You no longer have to worry about revenue loss or suing an infringing entity without legal backup. Remember, you have the responsibility to keep checking whether your intellectual property has been infringed upon.

  • It’s Easy

Yes, protecting your IP can be daunting and time-consuming. However, it’s worth every effort you put in plus it isn’t as complicated as it seems from the outside. Though you cannot protect the idea itself, it’s possible to protect how you mechanise that idea using IP rights.

Why Promote and Protect Intellectual Property?

Numerous compelling reasons can answer this question. The quality of human life depends on their capacity to create or innovate in technology and culture realms. Indeed, protection of new inventions provides additional resources that can be used to encourage more innovation.

We’re not done yet. Promoting and protecting intellectual property triggers economic growth. It creates jobs and industries that contribute significantly to the improvement of daily life. Remember, this doesn’t happen exclusively in your personal space. It’s the promotion of intellectual property systems that enable countries to perceive IPs as a driver for development and social-economic wellbeing.

Impacts on Your Business and the Market

As mentioned earlier, there are large multinationals who’ll scavenge for unprotected inventions to seize and benefit from such ideas. By choosing to protect your IP assets, you’ll be in a better position to compete without fear of intimidation or unfair exploitation.

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IP law covers different aspects of the entrepreneurial process. It’s crucial when acquiring seed funding or launching a new products line. However, you need to keep earning about evolving IP laws, timelines and what you can expect from an IP attorney or agent in the filing process.

What Are Intellectual Property Rights?

They’re property rights that give patent owners or creators the power to benefit from their creations continually.

Intellectual property rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The essentiality of intellectual property was entrenched during the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 1883 and 1886 respectively.

The State of Intellectual Property Rights in the Singapore Marketplace

In matters IP, Singapore follows the first-to-file protocol. It means that the first person to file an IP right becomes the rightful owner of the same once the application has been approved. Logically, this is one reason why you need to register at the first convenient opportunity.

The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore operates a broad IP database. Here, you can run eSearch to hunt for applications that have been filed with IPOS.

Intangible intellectual property rights are a critical competitive factor not only for Singaporean business but for global enterprises too. SMEs that want to expand to South East Asia can leverage IP to secure returns on investments. Foreign SMEs can take advantage of IP to attract funding, or to boost cash flow.

The good news for local and overseas entrepreneurs in Singapore is that the country has a robust IP regime. The Lion State has continuously built stable business ecosystems that enjoy global acclaim where IP matters are concerned. Already, Singapore has been feted fourth for having the best up protection regime.

You’re probably asking how Singapore’s IP legal framework stacks against global standards. Surprisingly, the country’s comprehensive IP framework compares with that of stable European and ASEAN region economies.

The country’s IP regime is Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) compliant. The legal framework protects intellectual property through copyright, integrated circuits layout designs, registered designs, patents and trademarks and others.

Singapore adheres to international IP treaties and is a member of global IP caucuses including the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Madrid International Registration of Marks Agreement, and WIPO Copyright Treaty, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and the Patent Cooperation Treaty among others.

What Is the Duration of Intellectual Property Rights in Singapore?

  • Patent Rights

These have a validity period of 20 years from the date of filing. The validity is subject to payment of renewal fees calculated at the end of the 4th year since filing. In exceptional situations, applications are made to extend the term of a patent.

  • Trade Secrets

The validity of confidential information lasts until the confidentiality of the same ceases.

  • Industrial Design Rights

They hold a validity of up to 15 years from the date of filing. There is usually an initial period of 5 years and additional periods of 5 years, depending on the application and payment of relevant fees.

  • Trademark Rights

Trade marks carry indefinite validity. It depends on fee payment and renewal every ten years.

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  • Geographical Indications

These too have an indefinite validity duration. They’re determined by payment of fees and are renewable every ten years.

  • Copyright

The validity periods for different kinds of artistic works vary. Artistic, musical or dramatic works come with a validity of 70 years after the death of their author(s)

  • Plant Varieties Protection

These assets are covered by a validity period of 25 years from the date of grant. They’re renewable annually.

How Does IP Protection Help?

Would you fancy some unauthorized persons coming to your house to cart away your precious belongings? It’s the same reason you have installed sturdy doors, locks and maybe a security system.

This is the same way IP protection works. It provides proof that the assets were yours in the first place. What you don’t know is that some entities can take advantage of your trade secrets, creative works or inventions by accident or purposefully.

What you need to do is to reach out to relevant experts such as patent attorneys to consolidate your ideas. It helps to have intellectual property rights favouring you should you need to sue an infringing party.

Understanding Infringement, Misappropriation, and Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights

In the IP sense, abuse of intellectual property rights is referred to as infringement. It becomes misappropriation of trade secrets are involved. Infringement is contrary to criminal and civil laws. This depends on the type of IP involved, the jurisdiction and the extent of the action.

  • Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement refers to the reproduction, distribution, display or performance of copyrighted works without the copyright holder’s permission. This type of infringement can be referred to as piracy. The copyright holder only gets damages if they have registered copyright for the same. The holder is responsible for enforcing the copyright.

  • Trademark Infringement

Trademark infringement happens if an individual or an entity uses a trademark that explicitly mimics that of another business or company. Trademarks are protected even if they’re not officially registered. However, registering gives the trademark better grounds for legal enforcement through a civil or criminal law approach.

  • Trade Secret Misappropriation

Trade secret misappropriation differs from other IP law violations. If the violation occurs, it falls under civil laws.

  • Patent Infringement

Patent infringement occurs when one party uses, takes advantage or sells a patented invention without express permission from the patent owner. In some jurisdictions, one can use patented inventions for research purposes. Patent infringement cases fall under civil law, though, in some countries, they’re classified under criminal law.

Reasons for Copyright Protection

  • Protecting Your Ideas

Copyright is one of the top intellectual property categories. It covers original works. It about how the idea is presented and not about the concept itself. But why do you need copyright protection?

  • Your Work Is an Asset

If you own a creative idea or creative work, it has financial potential. Whether now or in the future, such works become financial assets. Indeed, such works can be passed down the estate and can last for decades.

  • Protect Your Rights

If you enforce a copyright, the infringing party is liable to pay damages or compensate you for licensure. As soon as you notice someone or an organisation is profiting illegally from your works, you can institute legal proceedings and benefit financially.

  • Licensing Is the Future

Let’s say your trademarks or copyright works have attracted lots of attention from interested parties. You can go for licensing to generate income licensing allows third parties to use your asset, and you can profit from such an agreement.

Who Needs To Patent Their Products And Inventions?

  • Manufacturers

If you’ve launched a manufacturing business and can get your goods to the market, it’s wise to protect your unique products for as long as possible. It helps you to protect your market share and the prerogative to price your products for more profits.

  • Inventors Without Manufacturing Ability

Some inventors have excellent product ideas, but they’re unable to manufacture or bring a product to the market. If you’re such an entrepreneur, there’s a need to patent your creations. When you approach a manufacturing entity, you can demonstrate that you’ve secured a patent and that your secrets are protected.

  • Creators Without Market Penetration

As an inventor, you probably can idealise, create a product or hire a third pay to do it on your behalf. If you can’t penetrate the market, you need to patent your inventions before you bring in the external market to do it for you.

Steps for Start-Ups to Protect their Intellectual Property

Start-ups need to harness resources to patent their solutions and inventions. The patents are country-specific to some extent. As such, you’ll need to secure them domestically before you strategise on patenting your assets on a global scale.

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Your start-up invests time developing intellectual property protocols. As such, it’s crucial to learn and understand the need and fundamentals of securing trademarks, industrial designs and so on.

Start-ups are at times strapped for capital. You must reduce process costs by involving a patent attorney. These experts will help in preparing and filing for patents in multiple jurisdictions. Qualified patent attorneys know how to create compelling patent documents that describe what the invention can do.

Your start-up needs to identify possible infringers before you apply for a patent. It helps your company to profit through licensing and cross-licensing the creation. Also, you’ll need to consider well-written non-disclosure agreements to safeguard crucial information from leaking out.

Assess international patents principles. This lets you know whether your invention will be at stake from competitors in other jurisdictions. It’s recommended that you run a freedom-to-operate search to see whether you can launch in another country.

Apart from doing a patentability search, your start-up needs to carry out a landscape search to discover potential competitors and their activities. Eventually, you’ll need to devise a patent strategy that is aligned with your business goals and why you need legal protection.

Intellectual Property Office of Singapore Guide on Patent Filing

The simple rule according to the intellectual property office in Singapore is if you have IP property you’d want to protect, do it as early as possible.

These patents are awarded on a first to file basis. After realising you need to file fast, you’ll need to apply to the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore. This application should be accompanied by a full explanation of the invention and the mechanics behind it.

Things to Do Before Filing a Patent

There are key actors to consider before filing a patent. They are:

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  • Think It Through

Patent application as a process is long winding, costly, and convoluted. It’s worse if you take the plunge not knowing what to expect. You don’t want to spend a lot of money and have nothing to show in the end. Before you commit to the patent process, take time to do due diligence, and think it through.

  • Check If You Are Entitled to File

You must start by checking whether you’re entitled to file for a patent. If you’re the inventor, you have the right to apply in your name. If you’ve invented in the course of working for an employer/company, then that invention rightly belongs to the employer.

  • Research Your Patent

You probably think that your patent will be unique to your start-up. But you could be wrong. Always verify whether another entity has filed for the patent. You need to research whether your patent will limit competitors. This way, it will offer your business the desired benefits.

  • Research Patent Laws in Other Countries

Businesses have always battled to protect critical IP assets. If you’re planning to patent in a foreign country, it pays to learn the nuances of IP protection in the country you’re interested in. Always do so before you disclose the details of your creation

  • Use Patents to Attract Funding

Companies need to file patents to attract investors. Funding institutions love to gravitate towards organisations with a strong IP portfolio that comes with long term value. You can talk to your patent attorney for advice on building a formidable IP portfolio.

  • Manage the Costs of Patents

Filing a patent comes with its expenses. You’ll need to rein in the costs involved. You might think that creating drawings is cumbersome, but it helps you craft an impenetrable patent.  As soon as you register with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, nobody can use the invention without express permission.

What You Can Patent and What You Cannot

Not every idea you brood can be patented. There’s usually a misguided notion that you can patent any idea. Wrong. Mostly, patents can be granted as IP assets in two categories:

  • A Product
  • A Process

Unless there’s a mechanical or technical feature incorporated in the business creation, a model that is 100% mental cannot be patented. This means that basic ideas, aesthetic inventions, or products of nature that cannot fit into the patentable categories above. Fortunately, you can secure protection for such through registered design or trademarks.

Patent Requirements

When checking what can be or cannot be patented, you need to define your invention highly. A patent has to be novel and non-obvious. There is the legal attachment in these terms, but as an inventor, you need to come up with something completely new. Novel here means nobody else in the past has invented something similar.

What Qualifies Your Patent?

The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore emphasises on three significant aspects for your invention to be considered for a patent grant. These include:

  • It must be new

Your invention must not be in existent. It pays to keep your creativity under wraps until a patent has been granted

  • It encompasses an inventive phase

your invention needs to be a more significant improvement on an existing product or process. Your creation should take a different direction compared to existing technology.

  • It facilitates industrial application

Your invention should be applicable in a given industry. It can be a solution in the software, agricultural, lifestyle, science defines or health fields, among others.

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Steps for Applying For a Patent in Singapore

  1. Application

You’ll need to file your application virtually on the IPOS portal. You need the following:

  • Application Form and Patents Form 1
  • Description of the invention—describing one way of executing the invention according to your claims
  • Relevant drawings illustrated in black and white or grayscale
  • An Abstract of the creation
  • S$160 as the Application fee
  • Claims—if ready

If they’re not, you can go for a provisional application. It gives you 12 more months to fully complete the application. NB- the date of filing is the date from which patent protection is granted.

  1. Initial Examination

The patent registrar carries out a preliminary examination for your application. Tis is doe after you pay filing fees. It’s usually after one month of applying. This examination ensures all formalities are observed. The registrar can request for amendments within 2 months.

  1. Publication

After the filing date, your patent details are published on the patents journal. If you wish to get a grant in under 18 months, you can make a requisition via Patent Form 9. Once it’s published, you can take action against possible infringement.

  1. Search and Examination

Patents usually undergo a verification process. It’s here that the prior art search is conducted. This exercise compares your invention with similar inventions in your field. It helps to determine whether you still have a case for your creativity.

If no objections arise, a Notice of eligibility is issued. If there are, you can respond within 5 months a patent examiner opinion can recur until highlighted issues are sorted. If the problems cannot be resolved, you’ll receive a “Notice of Intention to Refuse” to mean your invention has been denied a patent.

  1. Grant

After the Notice of Eligibility has been issued, you have 2 months within which you must apply to be issued with a certificate of grant. After filing and getting a nod over the grant conditions, the register goes ahead to issue the Certificate of Grant. This indicates that your patent is valid for 20 years from the date of filing. You’ll need to pay renewal fees at the fifth year mark to sustain your patent.

Do I Need A Lawyer Or A Patent Agent?

In Singapore, it’s not mandatory in law for parties to engage patent attorneys or agents. But the technicality involved in preparing and filing patent forms calls for one to take up the services of these experts.

What’s more, a reputable can assist in applying professionally such that your grant gets the intended scope of protection. You can still go it alone, but you might end up stuck and frustrated. With a lawyer or a patent attorney on board, you can rest and leave them to do the heavy lifting.

About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


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