Singapore adopts 10 year master plan to become IP Hub for Asia

On 1 April the government of Singapore adopted a ‘Intellectual Property (IP) Hub Master Plan: Developing Singapore as a Global IP Hub in Asia’. Despite the date, this is emphatically no joke.  The plan helpfully summarises its key aspects in the following diagram:

Singapore IP Hub

     The initiatives adopted are:

Outcome 1:A hub for IP transactions and management  Develop a vibrant IP marketplace by attracting top IP intermediaries, and supporting promising initiatives to catalyse the development of the marketplace 1.      An Economic Development Board (EDB)-MinLaw Joint Programme Office will be set up to develop the IP and legal sectors. It will seek to promote quality IP marketplace players such as IP owners and service providers to Singapore.  
Facilitate IP transactions by increasing access to IP financing, and enhancing transparency and certainty in IP transactions 2.      The Government will introduce an IP financing scheme, where it partially underwrites the value of patents used as collateral in event of default. The intention is to encourage banks to recognise IP as an asset class, build IP financing capabilities among our financial institutions, and allow IP-rich companies to raise capital more easily using their IP assets.3.      Financial institutions undertaking IP financing-related courses (such as IP valuation) may be eligible for support under the Financial Training Scheme administered by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).4.      The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) will establish a new Centre of Excellence for IP Valuation, which will work with industry stakeholders to undertake a range of activities, including research on IP valuation methodologies, training and certification for IP valuation professionals, and establishing industry-wide best practices. 5.      The Singapore Exchange (SGX) will encourage listed companies to disclose their IP rights.  A clear and structured disclosure of IP rights of material importance can provide investors with better insights into the company’s strengths and potential growth. 
Outcome 2:A hub for quality IP filings  Create a strong value proposition to attract IP filings by offering world-class services, and strengthening international collaborations with other IP offices  6.      IPOS will invest $50 million to build up patent search and examination (S&E) capabilities in technology areas of strategic importance to Singapore. This will draw companies to register IP in Singapore. IPOS has started its S&E team in September 2012, and will be expanding this team progressively. The team is expected to be operational in mid-2013, after completing training by the European and Japan Patent Offices.  7.      IPOS will forge stronger cooperation with other national IP offices, and establish a comprehensive network of Patent Prosecution Highways (PPHs)1 building on our existing network with the US, Japan and South Korea. A strong network of PPHs will allow applicants to expedite the patent filing process in other jurisdictions from Singapore. 
Outcome 3:A hub for IP dispute resolution  Develop Singapore as a choice venue for IP dispute resolution, through a strong IP Court and deep IP alternative dispute resolution  capabilities  8.      The Supreme Court is establishing a specialised docket system for all cases.  For the IP Court, in addition to the current practice of assigning an assistant registrar to each IP case after it is filed, an IP Judge will also be assigned earlier. This will allow judges of the IP Court to build greater familiarity with IP cases and enhance the efficiency of case disposal. To support the IP Court’s adjudication functions, the Supreme Court will promote the use of assessors (for technical expertise) and amicus curiae (for legal expertise).9.      MinLaw will work with the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) to establish a panel of top international IP arbitrators in Singapore. This will enhance the international profile of Singapore’s IP alternative dispute resolution capabilities and attract such cases to Singapore.10.   IPOS will collaborate with the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Arbitration and Mediation Centre (WIPO AMC) to offer parties in patent disputes a new expert determination2 option. This option allows parties to select a trusted third party expert with the relevant expertise and experience from WIPO AMC’s panel, and will be implemented by Q2 2013. Benefits of this option include cost and time savings, as well as autonomy in the selection of their arbiter. 
Enabler 1:Skilled manpower resources networked to the region and                                                     beyond  Build a globally competitive IP workforce that is equipped with specialised IP skill sets and networked to other markets, and support the continued professional development of IP professionals  11.   IPOS will launch the IP Competency Framework (IPCF) to define the competencies required for key IP job roles in the industry, accredit training providers and their programmes offered under the framework, and to certify the attainment of these competencies into industry-recognised qualifications. 45 competency units under the IPCF will be rolled out in April 2013.12.   IPOS will invest $15 million to strengthen IP Academy to be the central agency to orchestrate the delivery of IP education and training for Singapore.      
Enabler 2:A conducive and progressive environment for IP activities  Enhance the tax environment to attract and anchor IP portfolios and substantive management activities 13.   The Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme, introduced by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and administered by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), covers activities such as the acquisition and registration of IP. From years of assessment 2013 to 2015, the scheme will be enhanced to include IP in-licensing for innovation or productivity improvements. 
Nurture a progressive environment that shapes and promotes IP thought leadership, and builds international perception 14.   We will leverage flagship events to create a nexus for the exchange of views among the international IP community. Examples include the Global Forum on IP and the IP Business Congress Asia Conference which Singapore will host in 2013. 

The plan is certainly ambitious.

Perhaps the biggest challenge (which the plan openly acknowledges on pages 14 and 15) is Singapore’s small domestic IP market, which means that the plan can only be achieved by tapping into international markets and bringing in expertise and capability.

With concerns about importation of foreign talent and expertise very much on Singapore’s domestic political agenda it will be interesting to see how Singapore manages to balance those interests with attracting the international talent required to turn Singapore into Asia’s IP Hub.

In my view, to achieve its objectives Singapore will need to significantly liberalise its market for service providers further – for so long as patent filing and IP litigation is restricted to local firms and some practicing restrictions remain on international law firms in Singapore, Singapore will find it hard to turn aspiration into reality.

For those interested in more detail on the IP dispute proposals, @singarbitration view’s can be found here.