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Commercialisation of tech will boost Singapore's IP edge: IPI Singapore

This is crucial in sharpening Singapore's competitive edge in IP and the business landscape.

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"Enterprises both large and small are rethinking innovation and seeing the benefits of going out of their traditional organisational boundaries and collaborating with partners with complementary technological capabilities." - Wong Lup Wai, CEO, Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI) Singapore

SINGAPORE might boast Asia's strongest intellectual property (IP) rights regime, but the key to unlocking the value in these technologies lies in commercialisation.

As the pace of innovation steps up, more companies are moving from product distribution to the creation of new products through licensing IP or developing their own, said Wong Lup Wai, chief executive of Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI) Singapore.

Commercialisation of technology is crucial in sharpening Singapore's competitive edge in IP and the overall business landscape, said Mr Wong.

"As more Singapore companies commercialise their technology and take their innovations to market, economic growth can be generated through development of competitive products, new startups and enterprises, and new jobs. This contributes to building a strong core of innovative Singapore enterprises that can thrive and grow beyond our shores."

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Without having to reinvent the wheel, a company can push its own product out into the market more quickly by licensing the right to use an available IP to develop the product. On the other hand, companies that have developed their own IPs can monetise them through licensing or commercialisation, creating new use cases.

Commercial value is realised when one's product or service is able to address a market need, and someone is willing to pay for it.

As more companies set their sights on developing their own products amid a thriving IP landscape, IPI has seen the interest in innovation partnerships shooting through the roof. IPI, an affiliate of Enterprise Singapore, is responsible for promoting tech-driven open innovation among businesses. Its online marketplace has aggregated over 600 technology offers available for licensing and commercialisation from its network of technology partners.

Mr Wong told The Business Times: "Enterprises both large and small are rethinking innovation and seeing the benefits of going out of their traditional organisational boundaries and collaborating with partners with complementary technological capabilities.

"We also observe that there is a growing number of enterprises... seeking IPI to understand the technology landscape of particular areas of emerging technologies and sourcing for the right partners to co-innovate."

This comes as small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) experience a shift in mindset.

While top priorities used to be reducing manufacturing costs and improving productivity for a cost-competitive product, more SMEs are now going beyond that to double down on building new and differentiated products through technology adoption.

Such a mindset shift is critical as technological disruption steps up its tempo, said Mr Wong. Innovation was recognised as a top priority for Singapore businesses, according to the National Business Survey 2018 conducted by the Singapore Business Federation, which polled more than 700 companies across key industries. To date, IPI has helped facilitate a number of innovation partnerships that have led to new products being developed.

For instance, homegrown startup Good Pharma Dermatology licensed National Skin Centre's (NSC) itch-relief formulation in December 2013. Within 15 months, the startup launched Suu Balm, a locally developed product that provides rapid relief to people with dry and sensitive skin.

The product is now available in the UK, Ireland, China and South-east Asia. Good Pharma continues to work with the NSC to make formulation improvements and has also launched new product line extensions, such as Suu Balm Kids for children with eczema.

The road to technology commercialisation can be a long and complex one, said Mr Wong.

On average, it takes two to five years to bring a new technology prototype to market; many other companies may simply drop out of the race.

"During the entire innovation process from product creation and development till commercialisation, enterprises will experience challenges along the way," Mr Wong told BT.

"These include challenges in talent recruitment, technical competencies, systems and processes, technology translation capabilities, scaling up, cultural differences, and regulation complexities, among many others."

IPI uses a metric called the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) to determine a product's state of development. For example, a product with low TRL might be in the proof-of-concept phase where the idea is demonstrated to be feasible, while a product with a higher TRL might be a prototype in a live environment or be ready for the market.

Mr Wong advises companies to manage their expectations on how long it takes to bring a product to market. "It may take several iterations and collaborations with different partners before the final product is launched," he said.

More recently, IPI began working closely with leading Singapore-based corporates, large local organisations and government agencies to put out innovation calls.

SMEs and startups are asked to submit their proposals that address problem statements. Selected applicants get to work with the corporations or government agencies to develop and test-bed new solutions.

"The opportunity to provide solutions to industry leaders and government agencies will help SMEs and startups build their innovation capabilities and address problem statements that can address needs on a national, or potentially regional or global level. This helps enterprises build track records," said Mr Wong.