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More firms leveraging IP for growth

[SINGAPORE] Statistics suggest that companies are increasingly aware of the importance of protecting their intellectual property (IP). But it is still necessary to debunk the perception that the process is expensive, particularly amongst small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Not that it is cheap, acknowledges Tan Yih San, chief executive at Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS), who estimates that it costs between S$10,000 and S$15,000 to draft and register a patent in Singapore.

According to IPOS, the number of patent filings has jumped more than 20 per cent in the last decade, from 7,908 in 2003 to 9,722 last year. Meanwhile, trademark applications reached 21,245 in 2013.

SMEs in particular are jumping onto the bandwagon. They are also asking more sophisticated questions, notes Mr Tan.

He adds: "We have existing programmes that help companies in the nascent stage - companies that are starting out, and are trying to figure out how best to grow their business. The Scope IP Programme was intended for that. We have also in the last few years seen an increased trend in companies which are trying to use IP as a growth strategy."

Since the roll out of the IP Hub Master Plan, a number of initiatives and programmes have been rolled out to address these concerns. These include the launch of IP ValueLab and the extension of Singapore's patent prosecution highway network.

"The thing about patents is cost...another thing that you hear quite a lot of business owners say is that it takes a long time to register a business patent," says Mr Tan.

From Nov 1, however, Singapore will be part of the Global Patent Prosecution Highway (GPPH) network, which allows for the sharing of patent search and examination results amongst 17 participating IP offices around the world. With GPPH, the number of patent prosecution highway partners Singapore has will increase from its current five to 20.

"Typically, if you go to the US, it traditionally takes between four and four and a half years (to register a patent under the old regime). If you go through us then to the US, you probably will be able to register your patent between 18 and 24 months. We hope to bring it down to 12 months," says Mr Tan.

"In regional markets, like Asean - next year you will hear of a number of initiatives to help companies move around - patents are very important. We have also worked with the Asean chiefs...(and) last year we rolled out a scheme where we help with the registration of patents in some of the Asean markets through this fast track system.

"Previously it may take seven years to have your patent registered in some of these Asean countries. Now, the time taken to register in Singapore and another country is less than 12 months."

The establishment of the IP ValueLab is another way through which IPOS hopes to reach out to "IP rich but asset poor" firms, which typically are just starting out.

The IP ValueLab in particular will better enable businesses to unlock the value of their intangible assets and ideas. Thus far, three local banks - DBS, OCBC, and UOB - are taking part in the venture.

The IP ValueLab will also partner the Singapore Accountancy Commission to develop and promote IP valuation guidelines, methodologies, and best practices, as well as develop curriculum for the training of IP valuers.

"Further down the road, we want to streamline some of our dispute resolution processes so that we can give SMEs a cheaper and faster way to gain access to justice," says Mr Tan.