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Opening Address by Second Minister for Law, Mr Edwin Tong SC, at IP Week @ SG 2022

06 Sep 2022

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

Dr Stanley Lai, Chairman of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore

Your Excellencies

Friends and Colleagues

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen


1          Let me start by echoing what Rena said earlier. It is almost surreal, but so nice to be back in a room with so many people. I almost feel that this is a fully physical event, but I am told that it is also hybrid. So we have guests online as well. Welcome, and good morning. Thank you very much for joining us.

2          I am happy to be back here again, at IP Week.

3          This is the third week in a row that we have had a week-long event in Singapore, so we are all “MICE-d” out or all “event-ed” out, as they say.

(a) We had the International Young Lawyers’ Congress two weeks ago.

(b) We had the Singapore Convention Week last week, where we welcomed guests from many parts of the world, coming together on the same platform, sharing ideas, exchanging thought leadership, and building networks.

(c) This week, we have IP Week – another significant, major event in our calendar.

4          It is great to see so many participants from all around the world, convening in Singapore, for these events.

(a) Indeed, it is very important for all of us in Singapore, to share developments, ideas, suggestions and feedback. We learn from one another, exchange ideas, bring them home, contextualise them as to how they can be applied in our home jurisdictions, so that overall, we can grow the pie, and benefit together.

(b) Such cooperation is vital in today’s inter-connected world, where there is an increasing flow of investments, goods, services, people, data, and information between countries. And of course, this all extends to IP as well.

Growth of IP

5          In 2021, intellectual property activity reached record highs, both locally as well as globally, even in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.

(a) The IP Office of Singapore (IPOS) received a record number of patent and trademark filings.

(b) The net capital stock of intellectual assets (IA) increased over the period of 2009 to 2019 by 9.7% per annum, more than double that of physical assets in the same period, which grew at 4.6% per annum.

(c) Globally, the number of international patent applications filed via the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Patent Cooperation Treaty grew to its highest-ever level in 2021.

6          These numbers are not just statistics. They tell us about a trajectory of growth pattern that I think all of us here would be familiar with. It is important for us now to discuss ideas around how best to marshal this growth, so that we can all benefit from the increased level of IP activity.

7          Let me make a few points about the continued growth in IP filings and put them in context, and discuss why I feel IP matters significantly today, not just to businesses and countries, but indeed, to the whole economy as well.

Innovation and dynamism

8          Let me start with innovation.

9          Some forms of innovation come to mind more easily than others.

(a) For instance, some innovations are brought about by the need to adapt to external events, and I think we have seen many examples of that in that past couple of years.

(i) Remote working came into its own during the pandemic, I think we are all very familiar with that.

(ii) Green technologies also came into their own because of the need to mitigate and address climate change.

(b) Other innovations create entirely new categories of products and services.

(i) The Web, for example, made e-commerce possible.

(ii) Smartphones, in turn, made the app economy possible.

10         These examples aside, most innovation is usually driven simply by necessity. In the background hum of competition among businesses, and in the most open and dynamic economies, competition produces world leaders and world-beaters. After all, one competes by figuring out how to do something better or more efficiently than the competition, and sometimes, how to do something that no one has ever done before.

11         A McKinsey study suggests that the top-growing companies in the world invest 2.6 times more in intangibles than low-growth companies, and that is regardless of the sector in which the company is in.

12         Most people would have heard by now, of machine learning, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and other promising technological advances. Much attention is currently being devoted to them, and quite rightly so.

13         But it is also worth remembering that innovations can take place in the form of novel improvements, advancements, in day-to-day things, ordinary things that we sometimes take for granted — and that anyone, in any sector, has the potential to innovate.

14         For instance, the National Skin Centre’s Dr Tey Hong Liang had formulated a new anti-itch cream for eczema sufferers. Eczema has been around for quite a long time. This new formulation provided better efficacy and relief for patients – a new cure, for something that has been a problem for a while. It was subsequently licensed to Good Pharma Dermatology, and brought to market since 2015 as Suu Balm, to benefit and bring relief to long-time eczema sufferers.

15         The powerful effects of innovation are felt not just by companies, as I said, but also by entire economies.

(a) As individual businesses become more innovative, they become more competitive as well, and may find that promising global markets open up to them.

(b) Other businesses are challenged to up their game and in turn invest in their own improvements and innovations, in order to keep up, overall, strengthening the sector as a whole, challenging one another to be better, keeping the competition up, ultimately for the benefit of end-users and consumers.

(c) Workers benefit as well, since innovative businesses require more skilled labour, creating better jobs.

16         It is not surprising that between 1995 and 2020, a span of about twenty five years, countries that invested heavily in different types of intangibles, such as Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, were rewarded with above-average economic growth.

17         In short, competition and adaptation drive innovation, and innovation in turn drives growth.

Staking a claim in the future economy

18         Intellectual property provides us with a powerful, versatile tool to support and in many ways, even facilitate innovation.

19         At its most basic, all IP regimes allow innovators to stake their  claim on their own innovations. That claim provides protection from having their innovations copied by others. 

 20         But as an IP ecosystem that develops and becomes more sophisticated, it also allows innovators to do more with that claim, beyond simply using it to prevent others from copying their innovation.

(a) For instance, IP facilitates collaborative research and development, because it allows the collaborators to meaningfully control the fruits of their collaboration.

(b) IP can also be used as a strategic tool for businesses.

            (i) Again, at its most basic, businesses can use IP to deny competitors
access to protected innovations.

            (ii) Businesses that are IP-rich but cash-poor can also use their IP not to exclude others, but to leverage upwards, to help obtain support and financing.

            (iii) That same leverage can also be used by businesses to enter cross-licensing deals with some of their competitors, and indeed, go further together by sharing complementary technologies.

            (iv) Similarly, since IP also allows businesses to claim a share over any derivative or subsequent innovations, innovators can benefit not just by cross-licensing, but also by encouraging others to use and indeed improve their technology.

21         Licensing is particularly worth highlighting, because the prospect of additional royalties rewards innovators for disseminating their innovations more widely, rather than protecting it, keeping it to themselves.

(a) Globally, receipts for IP royalties and licensing fees amounted to USD 444 billion in 2021, up from USD 237 billion in 2010, so a span of about eleven years or so.

(b) The enormous scale of licensing activity reflects the extent to which innovation is being disseminated.

22         These uses all go beyond the traditional idea that IP is simply about keeping others out, simply a measure of protectionism, by keeping others out of the inventions that they have advanced.

23         At its best however, IP doesn’t just reward innovators. It also helps disseminate new ideas and inventions, and encourages collaborations and these kinds of activities will have subsequent knock-on effects on innovation.

Fostering innovation through intellectual property

24         Singapore has long recognised the possibilities of IP, and we have continually worked with our partners and stakeholders, both here at home in Singapore, as well as globally, on the international circuit, to develop our IP ecosystem and better support innovation.

25         Just last year, we introduced the Singapore IP Strategy (SIPS) 2030, and I announced this in my speech on the same platform, last year.

26         Work has been done, and more will be done, to help innovators at all levels of sophistication and innovation.

27         For instance, the less sophisticated innovators may lack knowledge, and may not know where to begin on their journey.

28         A 2021 IPOS survey indicated that 98% of businesses recognised that trade secrets are important for business growth. But of that, only 45% actually took steps to safeguard their trade secrets. We found that that is mostly down to a lack of knowledge on how to proceed, how to take steps to actually actively protect that innovation.

(a) In such cases, raising awareness and improving access to information will help tremendously – as with the Trade Secrets Enterprise Guide that IPOS will be launching in collaboration with its industry partners, including EnterpriseSG and the Singapore Business Federation, amongst others.

29         Other innovators, particularly individuals and small businesses with limited finances, know what they need to do, but might themselves find IP services out of their reach.

(a) In such cases, a supportive ecosystem can really make a world of difference – as with the new Singapore chapter of the WIPO Inventor Assistance Programme, which will connect volunteer patent attorneys to youths in tertiary institutions to assist them in securing patent protection.

(b) Let me digress a little and thank the Association of Singapore Patent Attorneys, for their volunteers, stepping forward to help to pioneer this project. I would like to give a special mention to –

            (i)         Low Pei Lin from Allen & Gledhill

            (ii)        James Kinnaird and Edward Ng from Marks & Clerk Singapore

            (iii)       Martin Rainier Gabriel Schweiger from Schweiger & Partners; and

            (iv)      Eugene Yang from Amica Law

(c) The IAP is expected to be operational in the fourth quarter of this year.

30         Next, more sophisticated businesses may have no problems protecting their IP – better resource, better leverage, bigger networks and so on, but some may still benefit from guidance on IP strategy and management.

(a) Start-ups are hothouses for new ideas that could be very quickly brought to market, but may lack the expertise to identify and effectively exploit their innovations through IP.

(b) This is where IPOS International’s new IP Start Programme comes in handy. The IP Start Programme will support start-ups by way of curated resources, practical advice, hands-on guidance, shared exclusively through their accelerators and incubators.

31         As for the most advanced of players? I suspect many of them are in this room, or joining us virtually.

(a) You may find the IP Marketplace event useful, something that Rena mentioned earlier, just behind us, through those doors behind, as a useful way to build connections, get to know one another, and to build stronger, deeper, more extensive networks and other platforms.

(b) We look forward to working with you to push the envelope forward, whether in areas such as valuation standards, innovation financing, monetising, or beyond this.

WIPO-IPOS IP For Innovation Awards

32         Finally, one last remark before I close.

33         This year will be the 10th edition of our WIPO-IPOS IP For Innovation Awards.

34         I am very pleased to have a variety of different sectors represented by our finalists today, and to see how technological advancements have been made across all kinds of industries, some more expected, and some even less expected. From med tech to fintech, biotech to agritech, and even food tech, it is very exciting what innovations our finalists have been able to think about, to conceive of, and to achieve in making our future even more secure, convenient, sustainable. I very much look forward to recognising them for these achievements today.

35         To assess our finalists holistically, our panel of judges have also been selected from a range of different sectors, including the private sector, public sector, and of course, also academia. Between the judges, they have a tremendous, deep wealth of experience on the various aspects of IP, and we would like to now show our appreciation for their support of the Awards.

36         I hope enterprises will indeed be inspired by these stories of our finalists, their journey, how they have conceived of ideas, thought about their path, used IP, leveraged on it, taken advantage of it, and now appear on this platform today.  They are forward-looking, resilient, and adaptable in these particularly challenging times. They are able to use IA and IP to innovate, move forward, transform, and grow the businesses. This is what we want to see all of you be able to take away from an occasion like this.  


37         Finally, as I conclude, let me say what a pleasure it is to be in a room full of all of you, thought leaders from around the world. But more important than the knowledge and the know-how that you might see on screen and on stage, and listening to speakers, it is  for you to also build connections, networks, and strong relationships.

38         Indeed, when you leave Singapore, I hope you will leave with not just fond memories and a little bit more know-how, but also with a lot more connections with people around the world – people you can pick up the phone on and make a quick connection to. All these helps us in an increasingly diverse, globalised world. When we have friends from around the world, it makes the practice of IP and the innovation of IP, a lot smaller and a lot more manageable.

39         That is what we would like to see at this week’s IP Week. We hope that beyond sitting down and listening to these very deep conversations, you will also have some time to see a little bit of Singapore.

40         On that note, thank you very much for being here, and for listening to me. I wish you a good IP Week ahead.