Interview with the new Chief Executive of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore

On 1 August 2020, Mrs. Rena Lee was named the Chief Executive of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS). IPKat is delighted that Mrs. Lee has agreed to be interviewed in connection with her appointment.

1. Hello Mrs. Lee, and thank you for the interview. Perhaps you can briefly describe your path to the Chief Executive of IPOS.

My career in the public service began in 1992, when I joined the Ministry of Defence and began my practice in public international law. I subsequently joined the Attorney-General’s Chambers in 2008 to continue my practice. Just prior to joining IPOS, I was a member of the Hague Diplomatic Office of Singapore in the Netherlands. I am also Singapore’s Ambassador for Oceans and Law of the Sea Issues and the Special Envoy of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

2. In a few short years, IPOS has become an influential national IP office, ranked among the leading IP offices internationally. As well, Singapore has become a desirable location for regional and international IP bodies to establish a presence. In short, “you punch above your IP weight”. Why is this so?

It is our people who have helped IPOS to get to where it is today. It is our people who have focused on IPOS’ mission on driving enterprise growth through IP and Intangible Assets (IA) with a firm emphasis on our customers and our partners. And it is our people who continue to deliver innovative solutions that advance our thinking of a progressive IP ecosystem.

We believe that speed and access to global markets are essential for innovation-rich companies. Companies can leverage Singapore’s unique position as a global hub for IP activities. Over the years, we have established and strengthened long-term strategic agreements with the international IP community to help enterprises gain access to international markets quickly.

Today, we have cooperation agreements with over 70 regional and international partners that make up almost 90% of the world’s GDP. These agreements cover patent acceleration programmes and the sharing of best practices and engagements with innovative enterprises.

Some examples include our Global Patent Prosecution Highway network, the ASEAN Patent Examination Cooperation (ASPEC) programme and its related acceleration programmes in specific technology fields, such as ASPEC Acceleration for Industry 4.0 Infrastructure and Manufacturing (ASPEC-AIM). Enterprises can tap on these programmes to grow their international markets.

Customer service is another important area. We have redesigned our processes and tapped on digitalisation to support innovative enterprises throughout their IP journey. For example, we launched the world’s first mobile app for trademark filing and renewal (IPOS GO) last year. The app was expanded to include patents and registered designs renewal.

We are looking at enhancing the app to include a feature to search business names, trademarks, domain names and social media account names. These new features will make it even easier to obtain and maintain registered IP in Singapore.

Our customer centric approach has also helped us to continue servicing our clients uninterrupted during the pandemic. For example, we introduced full digital filings since 2014, thus minimising disruptions to our services during COVID-19, when safe distancing made it more challenging to continue business as usual. We further undertook a number of other initiatives to ensure that our services remain accessible.

For example, IPOS started fully virtual hearings and, in June this year, successfully settled its first trademark dispute through virtual mediation administered by WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Centre in Singapore. The parties benefited from both time and cost savings as a settlement was reached without having to wait for the lockdown to ease. We also converted face-to-face training to online modules and increased the frequency of our complimentary IP business and legal clinics through online modes.

Recognising that innovators needed faster market access, we rolled out a new patent acceleration programme called SG Patent Fast Track in April 2020 to help innovative businesses bring their inventions in all technology fields to market within six months. We have since extended this fast track system, now renamed SG IP FAST, to trademarks and registered designs.

3. Your predecessor, Mr. Daren Tang, has moved on to become the Director General of WIPO. How do you view the challenge of building on his tenure while also pursuing initiatives of particular interest to you?

An effective IP office is one that is responsive to the needs of innovators and enterprises. Daren has ensured that IPOS administers an efficient and effective IP regime that is nimble in addressing the changing needs of enterprises as well as promoting and enabling innovation.

I intend to build on the foundations that Daren has laid, within IPOS, and the larger IP ecosystem in Singapore and beyond, to help enterprises appreciate that IP/IA is not a business necessity but a business asset that can help them thrive, grow and enter new markets. We are working on the Singapore IP Strategy 2030, which will position Singapore as a global IP centre in Asia.

4. Singapore, including the IP profession in Singapore, has been a major beneficiary of globalisation. With globalisation under challenge, even before the coronavirus crisis, what changes will IPOS need to consider to maintain its leadership position?

As the world of innovation becomes more interconnected and as enterprises look to grow their global footprint, cross border IP protection and management will become even more important, especially in view of increasing protectionism and COVID-19. This is where IPOS can play a role in speeding up the protection of innovations across borders.

Singapore’s reputation as a neutral bridge-builder in the global community and an active member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has enabled us to establish regional and international links with the IP community. This benefits companies as they globalise. Through various bilateral and regional IP agreements, we enable enterprises to bring their products to the world faster and more efficiently.

As noted above, IPOS has bilateral and regional cooperation with over 70 countries (including our regional partners) and works closely with international organisations, like the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

We will need to continue broadening our networks and establishing new linkages with other countries to help companies use Singapore to access regional and global markets. We will continue to emphasize the importance of regional and global cooperation with various IP offices around the world and with multilateral institutions such as WIPO.

5. IPOS emphasizes that it is dedicated serving to the various stakeholders that make up the IP ecosystem in Singapore. How would you identify these stakeholders?

A robust IP ecosystem must comprise all stakeholders along the innovation value chain to ensure that we have efficient processes, wide networks, and strong capabilities in the IP ecosystem.

These stakeholders include legal and IP professionals, enterprises, the creative industry (designers, artists, musicians), trade associations and chambers, Singapore government agencies, tertiary institutions, and regional and global trade bodies.

At IPOS, we regularly engage our stakeholders to better understand their IP needs and concerns through consultations and roundtable discussions. We are also in touch with legal and IP professionals through regular networking events such as the annual Singapore IP Week and work closely with trade associations and chambers who represent enterprises and the wider business community.

For instance, IPOS and the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) launched the Workforce for IP-Savvy Enterprises (WISE) initiative - a pilot programme to equip companies with IP management knowledge and skills to help them identify new business opportunities, protect their intangible assets and minimise risks of costly litigations from IP infringements.

Beyond our own networks, we also work closely with other government agencies to support the IP-related needs of specific stakeholders. For example, as part of the Growing with Resilience through InTangibles (GRIT) initiative, we partnered agencies to address sector-specific IP needs in areas such as the arts and entertainment, tourism, and education.

6. While innovation and IP are often talked about as complements, when one drills down, the relationship between them is more nuanced than that. How do you see this relationship from the perspective of innovation and IP in Singapore?

IP is a key enabler for innovation as it provides a framework for innovations and creative works to be legally recognised, protected, and monetised. Without a robust IP regime, enterprises would lose the incentive to innovate. This must be in place as a foundation for innovation to thrive.

Beyond protection, IP needs to be well-managed for the owner to realise its full potential. IPOS understands this and has been building its capabilities, through our subsidiary, IPOS International, in order to equip enterprises with skills and tools to protect, manage and fully utilise their IP.

Beyond IP, Intangible Assets (IA) have also become a new asset class that is growing in importance in the innovation ecosystem. Examples of IA include goodwill, brand value, know-how and customer networks. According to the Brand Finance Global Intangible Finance Tracker 2019, the value of the world’s IA stood at US$ 50 trillion, representing almost half of global enterprise value.

Protected and managed well, IP and IA will give enterprises a competitive edge and spur more innovation.

7. I have been observing the IP scene in Singapore for nearly a decade and have noted the continuing expansion of its IP legal practice. Can this be expected to continue, and does IPOS have a role in trying to ensure that Singapore is getting the kind of IP legal expertise that it needs?

Yes, certainly. Increased filing activities in Singapore, coupled with our focus on positioning the country as a hub for IP dispute resolution, have led to higher demand for IP legal expertise.

We have rolled out a number of initiatives to support this. For example, IPOS International has partnered with the National University of Singapore and the Singapore Academy of Law to run the “Developments in IP Law” series on an annual basis. This flagship programme for IP professionals presents the latest developments in the four main domains for IP: copyright, patents, trademarks /passing off, and breach of confidence/privacy and data protection. The series will be entering its 8th edition in 2021.

Another example is the Young IP Mediator programme that IPOS organises with our local universities to build up IP mediation experience and capabilities amongst aspiring and fresh law graduates.

Developing a vibrant and thriving IP ecosystem in Singapore will require not just IP legal professionals but also other IP professionals too. To support the growing demand for IP expertise and skills development in the IP sector, we launched in August 2019 the Skills Framework for IP – the world’s first national-level framework for IP manpower development.

The framework aims to raise the overall competencies of IP professionals, helping them identify career development pathways and the skills needed to succeed in high-value roles requiring IP skills across the public and private sectors. It was jointly developed by IPOS, SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore, together with employers, industry associations as well as education and training providers.

Covering 11 job roles and 60 technical and general skills across five tracks - IP legal, Patents Prosecution, IP Strategy, IP Management & IP Commercialisation - the framework will build a pool of competent and industry-ready IP professionals to support enterprises as they take their ideas and IP global. The framework also identifies emerging skills needed in future.

The Singapore Government will continue working with key stakeholders to co-develop national capabilities on IP management, and will share more details next year. Beyond the development of technical expertise, IPOS is also looking at growing IP knowledge and skills across the Singapore workforce to give them an edge in the global economy.

Thank you, Mrs. Lee, and IPKat wishes every success in your new position.

Interview with the new Chief Executive of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore Interview with the new Chief Executive of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore  Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Tuesday, November 03, 2020 Rating: 5

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