Singapore—A Global IP and Innovation Hub An Interview with IPOS Chief Executive Rena Lee
After a challenging few years, Rena Lee is looking forward to welcoming registrants to the 2023 Annual Meeting Live+ and to showcasing Singapore as a global IP and innovation hub, as Ralph Cunningham discovers.
Rena Lee could not have taken on the role of chief executive of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) at a more disruptive time.
It was August 2020, and the world was in the teeth of the worst pandemic in a century. She did, however, take leadership of the Office when it was in good shape. In recent years, IPOS has been consistently recognized as one of the world's most innovative intellectual property (IP) offices.
Ms. Lee succeeded Daren Tang, who had held the post since 2015 and left to become the first Singaporean and first Asian to lead the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as its director general.
Now, as Ms. Lee welcomes registrants to the 2023 Annual Meeting Live+—she will be giving a capsule keynote address in the Business Track on Wednesday, May 17, at 11.30 am—she can look forward to telling a positive story about her IPOS colleagues embracing change nimbly and expertly as the Office continues to offer a full range of services to customers. She is proud of how IPOS responded during that time.
“I joined IPOS during the pandemic in 2020, so I witnessed the Office’s ability to adapt its services and I saw how important it was for an IP office to remain innovative, nimble, and resilient to help enterprises thrive, even in uncertain times,” she says.
Ms. Lee is proud of the advances IPOS made during this time, which include fully digital IP filings, virtual hearings, IP clinics and trainings, the launch and enhancement of the world’s fastest patent application to grant program, and improvements to the world’s first mobile trademark registration application system.
“Singapore is proud to be the host country for INTA’s 2023 Annual Meeting Live+”
- Rena Lee | IPOS Chief Executive (Singapore)
Singapore’s Future in IP
The Singapore IP Strategy 2030 is about building on these developments and enhancing the city-state’s position as a global IP and innovation hub. The goal is “to enable businesses to leverage their intangible assets (IA) and IP for growth and build an IA/IP savvy workforce and base of talent,” Ms. Lee says.
The Strategy is not just about helping IP owners to secure and monetize rights. Singapore also is focusing on assisting domestic, regional, and global entities in resolving disputes, which are inevitable in any system, and doing so efficiently and speedily.
“Singapore’s position and capabilities as a global technology and IP dispute resolution hub are built upon a trusted legal system, rule of law, neutrality, as well as a comprehensive suite of international dispute resolution services to meet different business needs,” says Ms. Lee.
The Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), the Singapore International Arbitration Centre, and the Singapore International Mediation Centre, which host international IP specialist judges, arbitrators, and mediators, as well as a newly formed list of Singapore-based expert witnesses are critical elements in this effort.
The WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center Singapore Office, the first and only office to be established outside of WIPO’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, means that Singapore is a key venue of choice for the arbitration of international IP disputes, in Ms. Lee’s view.
Singapore has also implemented the Intellectual Property (Amendment) Act 2022 to provide a more efficient and business-friendly environment for IP owners.
For brand owners this means partial acceptance for registration in Singapore of national trademark applications that have not been the target of any objections, saving them time and money. Under the old regime an entire application could be deemed withdrawn or refused if anyone took issue with its claims for goods or services.
The new law also cuts the time during which applicants may apply for relief measures from six to two months, if they have missed deadlines for their trademark applications.
“This encourages applicants to quickly put their application in order and reduces the period of uncertainty for others who may apply for identical or similar marks,” Ms. Lee says.
The Office’s online platforms have also been refreshed in the last year. The IPOS Digital Hub—the new online filing system—was developed in line with technology and updates via the Intellectual Property (Amendment) Act 2022. It features an intuitive and assistive user interface, enhanced search function, IP management features, greater support for IP dispute resolution processes, and the system’s workflows now benefit from extra automation and computer-assisted decision-making features, all with the aim of increasing productivity and improving service quality.
Technological developments also cater to the needs of new brand owners: users of the IPOS Go Mobile app can now avail themselves of a one-click Brand Search function to search for similar business names, trademarks, web domains, and social media usernames.
“[O]ur IPOS Digital Hub and IPOS Go Mobile app harness AI image search technology to enable our users to search and compare similar marks on the IPOS register more effectively and efficiently.”
- Rena Lee | IPOS Chief Executive (Singapore)
Using Artificial Intelligence
The topic of artificial intelligence (AI) invariably grabs the attention in any discussion about technology. IPOS has been quick to identify where this innovation can help IPOS users.
“Our Office has already begun to tap on it for greater efficiency in our services,” she says. “For example, our IPOS Digital Hub and IPOS Go Mobile app harness AI image search technology to enable our users to search and compare similar marks on the IPOS register more effectively and efficiently.”
IPOS is also talking to other government and research bodies such as the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore and the Centre for AI and Data Governance at the Singapore Management University as it seeks to understand better how AI, data, and IP interact.
IPOS is looking beyond Singapore to see how it can help companies not only grow domestically but also within the rest of Southeast Asia and farther afield. Three areas in particular are significant in this regard: IP protection and management, valuation and monetization of IA and IP, and dispute resolution.
“With the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] on track to becoming the fourth-largest economy in the world by 2030, IPOS wants to ensure that innovators and enterprises are supported to grow with their IA/IP, within Singapore and into the region,” Ms. Lee says.
As a founding member of the ASEAN Working Group on IP Cooperation (AWGIPC), Singapore participates in a number of task forces to improve the regional IP framework through the sharing of best practices, in the areas of trademarks, patents, and designs.
Some examples of where IPOS has helped to make a real difference to regional protection include IP re-registration programs with Cambodia and Lao PDR “to accelerate IP protection in the ASEAN market,” and a pilot collaborative Search and Examination Agreement with Vietnam to provide enhanced prior art search and examination results through combined expertise from both offices and to help businesses determine their go-to-market strategy earlier.
The Office is also collaborating with international and local industry partners on guidelines for intangible asset (IA) valuation and building a pool of accredited IA/IP valuers to support IA/IP valuation for enterprises.
Ms. Lee adds that when this framework is in place, companies can rely on it when involved in IA transactions and monetization in Singapore and the rest of the region.
Singapore also wants to use its strength as one of the world’s leading cross-border dispute resolution centers to help businesses develop dispute resolution strategies that will help them grow in the ASEAN region.
“With the ASEAN on track to becoming the fourth-largest economy in the world by 2030, IPOS wants to ensure that innovators and enterprises are supported to grow with their IA [intangible assets]/IP, within Singapore and into the region.”
- Rena Lee | IPOS Chief Executive (Singapore)
Coming to the Lion City
In welcoming registrants to the Annual Meeting, Ms. Lee is pleased to focus on the important relationship between IPOS and INTA. It is one that she wants to foster.
“I welcome all our delegates to Singapore and wish them a fruitful session of networking and learning from the Annual Meeting! Singapore is proud to be the host country for INTA’s 2023 Annual Meeting Live+, and IPOS looks forward to continuing working with INTA and its Asia-Pacific Representative Office here in Singapore to support its activities in the region,” she says.
She adds that the gathering will be an opportunity for those from overseas to update themselves on how IP and brand protection and management work in Singapore and the rest of the region.
“I hope that all the participants will gain deep insights into the latest trends and developments in IP and branding strategies, especially in our part of the world, as well as find out more about how you can use Singapore as your global brand and business hub.
“I would add in Singlish, our colloquial language, if you will, ‘May your learning and experience in Singapore be shiok!’ This means ‘May you have an incredibly enjoyable experience learning in Singapore as well as discovering all the food, shopping, sights, and sounds that Singapore has to offer!’”