Protecting Inventions and Content - Savvy Youth Show The Way
26 Apr 2022
By Dr Stanley Lai
On World Intellectual Property Day, let’s salute Singapore’s young innovators
There are 3.96 billion users of social media globally - and one-third of them are between 25 and 34 year old. With digitalisation, media consumption habits have changed, and the creator economy has grown to a point where an estimated 50 million content creators monetise their work.
Content creators, many of whom are young people, have changed the marketing scene by working with global brands to promote their products, whether through blogging, vlogging or social media content.
The influencer market is estimated to be worth US$15 billion (S$20.4 billion) in 2022, a more than five-fold increase in just over five years.
In Singapore alone, 85 per cent of those aged 16 to 24 follow social media influencers, while 67 per cent of them create content.
With the proliferation of digital identities and global brands in the digital space, content creators and businesses need to protect their unique content and products.
World Intellectual Property Day (WIPD) on April 26 has as its theme, “Innovating for a Better Future”. This year, we celebrate the innovation and creativity of young minds. As we look to the future, it is important to understand why #IPmatters for our youth, the future drivers and thought leaders of innovation.
Intellectual property (IP) protection safeguards one’s innovations such as original works, designs, inventions or technology, and brand names. These are protected through IP rights such as copyrights, registered designs, patents, and trademarks.
Content creators need to familiarise themselves with IP issues that arise in the digital space, including the metaverse.
For example, content creators own the copyright to all commissioned content by default unless otherwise contractually provided for. Such knowledge can protect content creators who are the default owners of commissioned works, should their works be used for purposes other than what was agreed upon.
Social media influencers have also been known to obtain trade mark protection of their names and this IP protection has been sought to undergird commercialization and/or influence. Popular social media influencer Annette Lee, for example, has trademarked her name to protect the content that she creates. Yet another local social media influencer, Christabel Chua, trademarked her lifestyle brand kāi to protect her online business.
The range of IP protection for content and services has grown. Associated byproducts of such protection include social media “likes”, slogans, soundbites and other end-user endorsement and support. It is indeed a new stage, occupied by new protagonists who are armed with new and different offerings.
We have also recently seen several Singapore social media influencers mint their Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). Yung Raja, best known for songs such as “Mustafa” and “Mami”, will launch a NFT collection this year with exclusive privileges for his customers.
Singapore-based influencer Irene Zhao’s photos generated $7.5 million in 10 days as NFTs.
When selling NFTs, content creators should be clear about what IP rights are granted to buyers. For instance, whether the copyright in the associated image will be transferred to the buyer, or if the buyer receives only a licence to reproduce that image.
Content creators should also ensure that the sale of their NFTs do not infringe any third party IP rights, including trademarks, copyright and registered designs. The token that is transacted should also be scrutinised for the IP in the underlying work.
IP is a valuable business asset.Products, services, cutting-edge technology or brands that are IP protected offer innovators the opportunity to maximise growth through their portfolio.
Case in point : Singapore brand Secretlab, which saw its revenue soar during the pandemic as online gaming became a popular hobby. Led by its young CEO, Ian Ang, who is the youngest winner of EY Entrepreneur of The Year Singapore for Consumer Products, Secretlab chairs have patent protection, and their designs have been registered as part of the company’s IP portfolio.
With its patented technology and registered designs, Secretlab can prevent its competitors from developing similar chairs, giving it a competitive advantage that will sustain it over many years.
Innovating for a Better Future
It is a matter of great encouragement to know of young innovators tackling pressing problems of our times.
Singaporean biotech startup TurtleTree, for instance, is changing the way the world eats. Led by its CEO and co-founder Lin Fengru, 34, TurtleTree uses its proprietary cell-based technology to create a new generation of sustainable food, turning ideas into assets.
During the pandemic, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) saw record levels of global IP filings in 2021, which is a testament to the importance of IP for the global innovation ecosystem. Asia accounted for 54.1 per cent of patent applications, while global trademark and design filings reached double-digit growth, setting new records.
Young inventors around the globe, too, joined in the Covid-19 fight to help their communities. A group of young inventors from Vietnam developed a mobile isolation helmet, Nihelm, for use over a long period to prevent frontline workers from contracting Covid-19.
They submitted a patent application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, and Nihelm is now freely available to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution – Non-Derivative Licence (CC BY-ND), an open-source licence, with three designs available for download on the Nihelm website.
For their life-saving innovation, the youth inventors were recognised as WIPO Youth Ambassadors in Asia and the Pacific region. It is hoped that this will raise awareness of IP rights among young people while encouraging them in their creative endeavours.
The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) has various measures to provide support for innovators. These include IPOS’ complimentary IP business and legal clinics that help with professional advice on IP protection and monetisation.
The Future Leaders in Innovation Transformation (FLINT) programme was designed to raise awareness and utilisation of IP by young innovators and entrepreneurial students. FLINT has reached out to more than 600 students across nine Institutes of Higher Learning.
To build the next generation of IP professionals, there are schemes such as the Mentoring IP Leaders programme (IP MILE), where third and final-year law students are mentored by participating law firms during IPOS’ IP legal clinics, and the Young IP Mediators Initiative (YIPMI) which gives law students an opportunity to be involved in IP mediation.
For youthful innovation to flourish, government agencies, educational institutions and innovation bodies should continue to engage our young people and share with them what IP can offer. This is supported by the Singapore IP Strategy 2030, a 10-year blueprint to strengthen Singapore’s position as a global intangible asset and IP hub.
As we nurture the creative drive in our youth, #IPmatters as they innovate for a better future.
This article was written by Dr Stanley Lai for the Straits Times Opinion and was published on 26 April 2022. Dr Stanley Lai is Chairman of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore as well as Partner and Head of IP Practice, Allen & Gledhill LLP.