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Guest-Of-Honour Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister For Culture, Community And Youth, and Second Minister for Law at IP Week 2021

24 Aug 2021

Mr Daren Tang, Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization

Dr Stanley Lai, Chairman of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS)

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

A. Introduction

  1. Good morning to our friends and colleagues from Singapore and also for those who are watching us from around this region. Good morning, good afternoon or good evening to the rest of our friends watching from other parts of the world today.
  1. I’m very pleased to be here at IP Week @ SG 2021, and especially happy to be able to meet at least some of you now in person.
  2. This year’s IP Week @ SG is particularly significant.

a. It marks the 10th edition of IPOS’s flagship event. I’ve put up here, different images, from what seems like a very different time ago, of all the various other editions of IP Week. This event is one that has grown tremendously over the past decade, from about 500 participants in 2012, to more than 5,000 in 2020. And today, we anticipate close to 10,000 participants from over 50 countries around the world are joining us at this event.

b. This, to my mind, signifies not just an interest in IP and what we have to learn and share at this forum, but also an indication of the growth in interest of IP in the economy around the world today. The growth of this event has been possible because of the strong support and also participation from our partners, supporting organisations, speakers, and stakeholders.

4. IPOS celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

a. It has come a long way since it first started in 2001.

b. In this relatively short period of time, it has pushed the paradigm of what an IP office should be, shifting from being an IP registry to one that is really leading the charge from the front in innovation and technology, continually finding new ways to support the growth and expansion of entrepreneurs.

c. This culminated in IPOS being ranked as the world’s most innovative IP office last year by the World Trademark Review, in recognition of IPOS being forward-thinking, and its commitment to applying innovation and digital transformation in its work.

d. Congratulations to IPOS!

e. On behalf of the IPOS family, I would like to thank everyone who has journeyed with us, either with IPOS, or supported IPOS’ work over the years.

f. We look forward to your continued participation, support and partnership as IPOS continues to grow and evolve in its service to the IP fraternity in the years to come.

B. Emerging Stronger with IP

  1. The theme this week is “Emerging Stronger with IP”.
  1. This theme recognises that IP and intangible assets (IA) are the engines of an increasingly innovation-driven global economy, and will, in all probability, continue to be an even stronger engine in the post-pandemic era. This confidence that we have, or at least that I have, is anchored in some clear trends, around the world, and in Asia. I will show you some of these trends because I believe it informs us of where we have to be, what we should do, and how we should position ourselves to take advantage of this growth.

7. In 1975, intangible assets represented only 14% of the total assets in the S&P 500.

a. By 2020, this had grown to 90% - a historic high, amounting to over US$21 trillion in value.

8. In 1975, the top five S&P 500 companies were IBM, Exxon Mobil, Procter & Gamble, GE, and 3M. Iconic names.

a. In 2020, the top five were Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook.

b. The shift to high-tech companies that are light on tangibles and heavy on intangibles is very telling.

9. We are also seeing this shift play out in Asia.

a. Over the past decade, Asia has accounted for

i. 87% of the global growth in patents,

ii. 43% of the global growth in start-up investments, and

iii. 52% of the global growth in revenue for technology companies.

b. Take some of the most well-known names, companies of all sizes – from Samsung to Shopback and Tencent to Razer – have all used their intangible assets to stay ahead in the market, and in some cases increased their growth potential tremendously.

i. Both Samsung and Razer invest heavily in protecting their IP.

ii. Samsung spent something like 15 billion euros on innovation in 2018 and grew its patent filings by 11% the following year.

iii. Razer registered over 3,000 patents, trademarks and designs since 2005.

iv. Tencent has a stable of popular internet-related services and a trove of data which it leverages.

v. Shopback raised US$75 million last year to scale its technology infrastructure and expand its data capabilities.

vi. Asia has also accounted for the second largest number of unicorns after the US, and is way ahead of other regions. About half of all those unicorns are in high-tech, IP-rich companies.

10. All of these give us a marker, and I believe a strong one, that intangible assets will become more and more important, relevant and valuable for companies, including those in Singapore and those in the immediate region, in Asia.

11. One other important component of intangible assets is branding.

a. More and more Singapore companies are investing to build the value of their brands.

b. According to Brand Finance’s 2021 report, the 100 most valuable Singapore brands were valued at US$42 billion.

c. These brands cut across a variety of industries. Between 2020 and 2021, just take two of these companies -

i. Tiger, a Heineken Asia Pacific brand, recorded a 25% brand value increase to almost US$911 million; and

ii. Olam, a commodities trading firm, saw a 13% brand value increase to almost US$900 million.

iii. And this all took place in the middle of a COVID-stricken year.

12. The question for us in Singapore is, what do we do with this? How do we position ourselves, what have we done, and what should be our steps moving forward?

C. Singapore IP Strategy 2030

13. For some time, Singapore has valued the importance of developing a strong, efficient IP hub, one that is capable of bringing together the best value propositions to advance the development, recognition, and ultimately commercialisation of IP. This has been and will continue to be a critical part of our country’s broader economic strategy.

14. In 2013, we launched our IP Hub Master Plan, which, as many of you know, was itself not the first strategic plan on IP.

a. The IP Hub Master Plan 2013 aimed to develop Singapore as a global IP hub in Asia, focusing on facilitating IP management, quality IP filings and also dispute resolution.

b. This Master Plan was updated a few years later in 2017,

i. To expand the pool of local IP expertise,

ii. To improve access to publicly-funded R&D for commercialisation; and iii. To also create a marketplace for IP.

c. During this period, we had set up a patent examination unit which has gone on to be appointed as an International Authority for searching and examining international patent applications under the Patent Cooperation Treaty.

d. We also implemented a National IP Protocol which standardises and streamlines the approach for the private sector to commercialise publicly-funded R&D outcomes.

e. We set up:

i. IP Academy, to grow the number of professionals who are skilled in IP protection, management and also increasingly important, value creation. IP Academy runs more than 150 programmes, reaching over 15,000 participants, each year.

ii. We also set up IP ValueLab, to assist companies in managing and commercialising their own IP.

15. Much of these objectives were aimed at allowing companies to grow, to expand, take advantage of the opportunities, commercialise, and monetise their IP. And we have achieved many of these objectives. But at the same time, we cannot afford to keep still. We are operating in a fast-paced, cutting-edge technology environment, and that is, of course as you all know, the hallmark of a good IP economy. Earlier this year, we took it a step forward. We launched the Singapore IP Strategy (SIPS) 2030, with the aim that this will take us one step further.

a. SIPS 2030 sets out our plans to grow Singapore as a global hub for IP activities and transactions, and maintain Singapore’s status as a top-ranked IP regime.

b. This is also to ensure that our IP regime and supporting initiatives will provide a strong foundation that is relevant and relatable to our users, to the companies that exist in the IP ecosystem. To assist all of these innovative companies to take advantage of their own IA and IP for their own growth, to maintain their competitive advantage against competitors from across the region and in the world, as well as for international companies to use Singapore as a base to manage their IP. As we always say, it doesn’t matter if you are not operating in Singapore. As long as you are able to manage your IP in, or from, or through Singapore, we are happy.

D. Growing a Vibrant IP Ecosystem

16. These efforts will cater to both the broader ecosystem as well as to those who operate individually. Let me just illustrate this.

IA/IP Service Marketplace

17. At the ecosystem level, we will enhance companies’ ability to manage their IA and IP by facilitating their access to a full suite of IA and IP services that they might need, across the spectrum of their journey.

18. This will be done through a new online platform that will serve as a marketplace for such services, bringing suppliers and demand together.

19. Enterprises will have access to the expertise that they will need to manage their own IA and IP, effectively commercialise it, and also use it to raise capital.

IA Valuation & Disclosure

20. On this last point, one area that we are working on is to establish guidelines for the effective valuation of IA/IP.

a. Valuation practices at present are uneven across different economies and different jurisdictions. This not only leads to unreliable results, but once you have unevenness, you can’t apply a common standard, and you can’t effectively look at valuation inter-jurisdictionally.

b. This makes it difficult for enterprises to leverage their own intangible assets for growth, to raise capital, to raise funding. If an asset cannot be adequately or properly valued on an internationally recognised, objective basis, then I think you will agree that it would be difficult to monetise that asset.

c. To develop a more credible and trustworthy IA valuation ecosystem, Singapore will lead the development of IA valuation practice standards and guidelines with the help of an international panel of IA valuation experts.

i. We will promote these guidelines internationally to companies, banks and investors alike on a common platform, so that as they look at valuation, they will know and can trust the standards that apply for this valuation methodology. And in turn, they can use the valuations to benefit more with consistent and reliable, internationally-accepted valuations, to monetise their IA and IP.

21. To give an example, the combined intangible assets of the top five companies on the S&P 500 were valued at just over US$21 trillion in 2018, while their tangible assets were valued at just US$4 trillion.

22. Yet at the same time, surveys have shown that only about 59% of senior investment decision-makers consider intangible assets to form an increasingly significant part of their assessment and valuation of companies.

a. That leaves out about 84% of a company’s value when you look at it across the spectrum.

23. So we need to address this gap.

24. Having clear disclosure and articulation of a company’s intangible assets can help investors better understand how to evaluate a company’s intangible value and also reduce information asymmetries in the market.

25. Innovative businesses can then extract more value from their intangible assets, for example, by raising financing.

26. To this end, IPOS is working with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to include intangible assets valuation and evaluation-related expenses as part of eligible listing expenses under the Grant for Equity Market Singapore (GEMS).

27. This, I’m sure, will help to defray some of the costs, and encourage would-be issuers to go through this evaluation process, disclose their intangibles and really put these values on the market so that they can be realised.

28. Over time, consistent and reliable disclosures will also help investors to better appreciate intangible asset valuation as value drivers for businesses.

29. I think it is apposite and opportune, and we will be convening an inter-agency committee and an industry-led working group to co-develop a standardised intangible asset disclosure framework.

E. Developing Valuable Skills in IP

30. At the individual level, we will encourage individual companies across different sectors to adopt IA management skills in their own innovation-related job roles. Of course, some sectors will find this more relevant than other sectors. We do this so that they will have relevant competencies in-house to effectively protect and also make use of the fruits of their own investments in intangibles.

31. This is also in line with our broader push to encourage individuals to have a mindset of active and continual learning, upgrading themselves, which will help them level up on their skills, identify and also take advantage of new opportunities that with the shifts which we have seen earlier, will come their way.

32. To start off, we have identified some areas where we see the potential for development, across the sector. Let me just highlight a few.

IP Dispute Resolution Skills

33. One such area is IP and technology dispute resolution.

a. I think IP is often an important competitive differentiator. Increasingly, that will be so in the market. And there is often a threat that it will be infringed.

34. If you take the survey done in 2019 by the Aon and Ponemon Institute, it tells us that nearly half of all companies surveyed experienced a data or security breach at least once over the prior two years.

a. Most of these breaches involved infringements or challenges to the company’s IP, in particular trade secrets, patents and copyright. If you follow the line of logic that much of a company’s value is in intangibles, then a threat to trade secrets, patents or copyright will be a threat to the fundamental value of the company.

35. So in this regard, a sound IP dispute resolution framework is needed to ensure that businesses can effectively enforce their rights and settle their disputes in a way which is efficient, transparent, fair, expeditious.

a. A reliable IP dispute resolution framework gives companies the confidence and peace of mind to focus on their core business, giving them one more reason to locate in Singapore, and do and transact their IP businesses, either in or from Singapore.

36. Second, we also want to have a suite of options available when it comes to giving expert testimony.

37. In IP and technology disputes, apart from the involvement of lawyers, expert evidence is often required to address many technical aspects of the case.

38. One particular area we will look into is to have technical expertise relevant for IP disputes, so that we can have people come forward to better assist the judge, the tribunal in an arbitration, or in case of a mediation, the mediator, to better understand and appreciate the technology that underlies the dispute.

39. We recognise the importance of having a pool of credible and competent expert witnesses in various fields of science and technology, able to translate their knowledge. Knowing it is one thing. Being able to communicate it and translate it into something that is understood by the tribunal, the lawyers, is quite something else. So we want to have a pool of expert witnesses, who will be able to fulfil this function.

40. Singapore starts with a strong base – we have a strong base of technical experts in various fields, and I think this will be an opportunity for them to profile their strengths, share their knowledge and serve in a different context and capacity.

41. Legal practitioners have also shared with us that it would be useful to have Singapore-based experts to tap on for cases heard in Singapore.

42. It can be challenging for an expert to effectively explain the underlying technology in the context of a dispute.

43. And so, to assist with this, IPOS has launched a course, titled “Acting as a Witness in a Patent Dispute” – very self-explanatory title, leaves you in no doubt what they do.

a. This course equips experts with basic training in patent dispute resolution, understanding the court process, the proceedings, and prepares them to act as expert witnesses or to assist the tribunal or the court or the mediator as may be appropriate.

b. The inaugural session was held a couple of months back, in July, and was very well received.

i. There were a total of 55 participants across a diverse range of different expertise, different skillsets, including science, engineering, and infocomm technology. ii. IPOS, I’m told, will conduct another run in October this year.

  1. IPOS will also help enterprises identify suitable expert witnesses, if they need one to assist in their cases, whether it is in one or more arenas, by publishing a directory of technical experts, including those who have completed the IPOS course, who can be tapped on as expert witnesses.
  1. This ultimately feeds into our goal of Singapore becoming a one-stop shop for effective IP and technology dispute resolution, and also broadening the range of our local experts.

SkillsFuture Study Awards

46. Another initiative I want to touch on in the development of IP skills, to support it, is the SkillsFuture Study Awards for the IP sector (SFSA-IP), launched in 2018.

a. This programme supports Singaporeans on their journey to acquire and develop industry-relevant IP skills throughout their careers, and encourages Singapore companies to develop IP skills amongst their employees.

b. So we look at it as the broad infrastructure ecosystem, what do we need to support it, how do we support each company and corporate institution, but we also want to support each basic building block of the IP expertise ecosystem. And that’s the individual. So SkillsFuture comes in for this.

47. Take the example of Mr Tan Kai Pin, a recipient of the SFSA-IP. Look at his IP journey.

a. Kai Pin is a project manager in the maritime industry, whose job requires him to manage partnership contracts and licensing agreements.

b. It was this exposure to IP-related contract terms that spurred him to enrol in the Graduate Diploma in IP and Innovation Management at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).

c. With this new-found knowledge, Kai Pin is now better able to negotiate and manage the legal agreements under his charge.

48. I am pleased to share that the SkillsFuture Study Awards - IP has been extended for a third run, and is now open for applications. For anyone who wishes to follow on Kai Pin’s journey, improve themselves, be a better player in the IP ecosystem, for which I see tremendous headroom, lots of potential moving forward.

a. This training enables Singaporeans to perform better not just in IP-specific roles, I might add, but also cross-functionally in other innovation, technology-driven related roles.

F. Recognising Innovative Businesses

  1. Even as we roll out our support initiatives, and I’ve given some examples, we are happy to see that some Singapore companies have already made that leap to develop themselves and make full use of their intangible assets to grow, to monetise, and really add value to the sectors they are in. Let me give two examples.

MycoTech

  1. MycoTech is a Singapore-registered biotech start-up which produces eco-friendly and sustainable products.
  1. It benefited from IPOS International’s bespoke consultancy and training to help manage its IP, thanks to a grant from DBS Foundation.
  1. Its patented technology for producing mycelium leather (Mylea) for the fashion industry has the potential to reduce 68% of the global carbon footprint, 70% of water consumption, and 90% of the toxic waste resulting from animal leather production.
  1. This technology not only helps to protect the environment but also opens up significant economic opportunities for farming communities.
  1. With IPOS International’s help, MycoTech was able to better understand how to manage, how to leverage, utilise its IP portfolio to reap maximum potential. It is still on this journey.

INEX Innovate

54. Another company, INEX Innovate (INEX), is a leading Singaporean molecular diagnostics company that specialises in women’s and foetal health.

55. Its technology helps to detect genetic foetal abnormalities and oncological conditions such as ovarian and breast cancers.

56. INEX has developed and maintains a broad range of IP.

a. For example, the company developed OvaCis®, the world’s first intra-operative point of care medical device to determine if an ovarian cyst is benign or malignant.

b. The company also registered its first trademark to build brand identity and recognition in key markets, thereby enabling its own expansion abroad, beyond Singapore.

57. Its pioneering technologies improve the health and quality of life of women and babies around the world. And that’s happening because of the ecosystem we have here, the support we have given. We are tremendously proud that it is a leading Singaporean molecular diagnostics company.

58. We will be presenting the WIPO-IPOS IP for Innovation Awards to recognise companies that have successfully managed to leverage their IP and intangible assets later. I’m sure they will be very pleased to receive all your support for the work that they have done.

59. I hope these stories and experiences of these companies that I’ve highlighted will inspire more enterprises to come forward, take advantage of what I regard as hidden potential. Lots of companies have potential in intangibles, that perhaps at this point in time, they might not themselves fully appreciate. And the ecosystem we have both at the broad level as well as at the individual level will allow them to unlock all of this potential.

G. Conclusion

60. Finally, as I close, let me just reiterate that as we take some comfort in being able to meet again physically, at least in a limited way here, that we see the growth potential, especially in IA and IP, in Asia especially. The road ahead is still somewhat uncertain, as our National Day song reminds us. Even as we set out our plans to emerge from COVID-19 to face a COVID-19-endemic world, there will be challenges. But I think in this sector – with what we have seen and with some of the data that I have pointed out to you – the message is really not to let COVID-19 dampen our ambitions. We have seen brands – Tiger, Olam – not traditionally high-tech brands, prosper in the last 12 to 18 months, in a period of time when the world was struck by COVID.

61. The Government is fully committed to supporting our entrepreneurs, our economy, on their innovation journey, along the lines of what I have sketched out at different levels.

62. We have already started our work on several SIPS initiatives. We announced it a few months ago, we have decided to embark quickly on it, to take advantage of some downtime in terms of travel and with COVID affecting us. We have started on several of the initiatives already, since it was announced four months ago.

63. We are now moving into the next phase and will be setting up an inter-agency committee co-chaired at the Ministerial-level, between MinLaw, Ministry of Finance, and also MTI, to lead the execution of the Strategy.

64. Last year’s IP Week @ SG was held for the first time as a fully virtual event. We had good participation, but it was fully virtual.

65. This year, despite an uneven recovery – there are still challenges ahead – we have pushed on with a hybrid event. I’m sure many of you here in this auditorium appreciate that opportunity to come out again and see old friends and make new ones. I certainly did.

66. My hope is that this time next year, we can go back to some of those photographs that I showed you earlier. That we will all be able to gather in-person again, as one innovation- and IP-rich community, to celebrate the 11th edition of IP Week @ SG. And next year, when we look back on the year that has gone by, I would hope to see that we have made the best use of the structures that we’ve put in place, the innovation and technology development potential that many of our companies have, and look forward to many more stories like those I have shared with you.

67. On that note, thank you very much to all of you for listening to me. I hope you spend a bit of time, at least in your smaller bubbles, to make some new friends, share ideas. After all, the purpose of such an occasion is not just to learn and listen, but to share ideas across the table, and I think this occasion gives us a limited but much welcomed opportunity to do that. Thank you very much.