From the labs into the IP world
by Wong Chee Leong, Principal Patent Examiner, IPOS International


“Judging inventions” was the header of the recruitment pamphlet five years ago, which advertised the job opening of “Patent Examiner”. I must admit that it was a pretty big “leap of faith” applying for an occupation which, at that point in time, did not previously exist in Singapore. “Let’s see how it goes…” I recall, were my thoughts as I sent my electronic application to, and the rest, as they say, was history.

Having spent a good ten years in academia, being part of the inaugural “batch” of patent examiners that joined IPOS in September 2012 was a completely fresh experience for me. Never did I realise that a single word in a sentence could mean a difference between a scope of protection potentially worth millions of dollars and an examination report that reads “Rejected”. Nevertheless, this and other important legal concepts relating to patents were taught to us during our training. The transition, for me, was by no means easy. But learning about how inventors could protect their ideas, and having the opportunity to participate in that process, provided me with a wholly different perspective about technology. To me, where ”working in the technology field” used to mean research grant applications, research papers and tinkering with my setup in the lab (something other PhD holders would call “experiments”), it now also meant rewarding ideas, granting patents and fostering innovation.
                          cosy setup
                                              From my setup in the lab to my cosy nook in IPOS-I
As promised in that recruitment pamphlet from five years ago, examining patent applications is indeed about judging inventions, and perhaps the most important lesson I have learnt from the work so far is about making calculated decisions. While reading about the latest technologies in new patent applications somewhat has its appeal, weighing up arguments submitted by applicants about how their inventions are unique from the prior art is what I enjoy most about the job.

My time in IPOS has passed briskly, and in an eventful five years, I have seen the Patent Search and Examination Unit (fondly known as “the Unit”) grow from an initial 20 patent examiners, into IPOS International that houses over 100 patent examiners working in various technical fields. For me, the most exciting milestone during this period of time was IPOS’ appointment as an International Authority (IA) by the World Intellectual Property Organization in September 2015. Our appointment as an IA allows our patent examiners to assess applications filed via the international patent system, and thereby provides us with the opportunity for our search and examination work to be recognized globally. I feel proud that I have participated in almost every step of the Unit’s growth, from training new patent examiners, to developing patent examination guidelines, and working on patents-related policies with colleagues from the Registry of Patents.         
                                         We aim to be accurate both in our patent examination and archery

While the Unit has evolved significantly in both size and stature, I believe that it continues to maintain the collegial work environment that we set out to build since the first day of its inception. Teamwork is important, since discussing and working through difficult issues in applications together almost always makes for better decisions. I look forward to continuing to work with the excellent bunch of colleagues I have at IPOS International, and to the next lap in my journey with them as patent examiners.