IPRdaily: Thank you for this opportunity to interview you! Before starting our interview, please tell us more about yourself and what makes you interested in intellectual property.
Daren TANG: Before I was posted to the IP office, I was an international lawyer for more than a decade. My area of focus was on free trade agreements and I negotiated our FTAs with the US and the EU, as well as various ASEAN trade and investment agreements. The work was complex and challenging, but exciting and mind-broadening. I learned how different regions or countries faced common issues but had different approaches to them, so it was important to build bridges to allow for ideas to be exchanged and common challenges to be worked on together.
I moved from this world to the IP office because I was looking to broaden my capabilities. Lawyering is deeply technical and I wanted to try something which was broader in scope. I was therefore posted to the IP office as the Deputy Chief Executive, which would allow me to get involved in policy-making and to help run the office.
After I joined the office, I was struck by several things about the IP world. First, it is an extremely dynamic environment, where there is a constant injection of new ideas, be it technology, brands or content. Second, people in the IP community tend to be international, because they work for companies or organisations which have global operations or activities. Third, it is generally a happy and excited community, which I think comes from the fact that inventing or creating something, or being involved in promoting it, is a very satisfying path.
I also have a personal connection with IP because of my past experience as an amateur musician, playing piano in a jazz quartet. I did not pursue that as a career but it allowed me to understand what it is like to be a creator, and to have an emotional connection to my work.
IPRdaily: Singapore is often ranked top in Asia for having the best IP protection. Can you share some of the work IPOS does to maintain this reputation?
Daren TANG: In Singapore, just like in China, we see IP as an important tool for economic and social development. It is our job to ensure that the IP regime supports innovative companies and has a positive impact on the lives of our people.
Although our IP regime is well regarded by stakeholders, we still conduct regular review and updates to ensure that our IP laws are progressive and relevant.
To do this well, and have a genuine impact, stakeholder engagement is crucial. IPOS sees itself not just as an IP registry but an innovation agency, so we have a wide range of stakeholders, including those in the R&D community, IP professionals, businesses, financiers, creators and entrepreneurs. We also engage extensively with foreign stakeholders and partners, to get a better read of developments around the world.
Another practice we can share is the use of data to drive policy-decisions, which is also increasingly the practice at other IP offices. This allows us to better gauge the impact of our proposals and enrich our decision-making processes.
With these in place, we have been extremely active in the area of legislative reform in the past two years. For example, the Singapore parliament recently passed amendments to our patent and registered designs laws where one of the new amendments, proposed as a result of our stakeholders’ engagements, was the broadening of our patent grace period . This allows inventors to disclose information of their inventions for strategic and business purposes (e.g. attract investors, assess market demand) even before they file a patent. A similar amendment was also made for our registered designs grace period.
We are currently embarking on the first major review of our copyright regime in 30 years to ensure it remains relevant in light of market changes, technological advances in the digital age and its accompanying challenges. We launched our first public consultation in August last year and the proposed legislative changes are likely to come into force in 2018.
On top of this, we are also looking into amendments to build an IP dispute resolution system that will better serve the needs of SMEs and entrepreneurs, by building a more streamlined and cost-effective mechanism.
So, the amendments we are putting in place will touch upon all parts of the IP life-cycle, from creation to registration to enforcement.
IPRdaily: What new developments can we see in the future for the IPOS?
Daren TANG: Earlier this year, the Singapore Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), a high-level national committee whose mandate is to transform the Singapore’s economy, recommended (among other strategies) that we strengthen the ability of our enterprises to innovate and globalise.
To support this important effort, IPOS has evolved from a registry and regulator, to an innovation agency driving IP commercialisation for Singapore’s future growth.In April this year, we announced updates to our IP Hub Master Plan with the aim of growing more IP jobs, expanding our IP talent pool, and facilitating enterprise growth through IP. To this end, we will continue to form strategic collaborations with local and international partners who are aligned with our vision.
For example, IPOS and our subsidiary, IP Academy (IPA), have partnered local university, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), to launch a new skills-based IP and innovation management graduate programme to grow a pool of industry-ready IP professionals to help enterprises manage their IP assets.
Another subsidiary, IP ValueLab (IPVL), will provide enterprises with customised assistance on IP strategy and management to support their commercialisation and growth plans so that they can take their ideas into the markets. IPVL has just launched a new self-help business portal (www.ipvaluelab.com.sg) where innovators and enterprises can access a repository of IP business guides and diagnostic toolkits.
We will continue to evolve ourselves, by enhancing our services and working with strategic partners, to service the flow of ideas and innovation through Singapore and support the entrepreneurs and enterprises which are creating value for our economy and society.
IPRdaily: IPOS recently launched a S$1 billion Innovation Fund with Makara Capital to help innovative companies develop their businesses and expand overseas. Could you share more about the fund with us? Why did IPOS decide to cooperate with Makara Capital?
Daren TANG: The co-operation with private equity firm, Makara Capital and IPOS’ subsidiary, IP ValueLab is part of our efforts to work with strategic partners to help enterprises translate their IP into assets, and connect them with relevant networks and expertise for growth and expansion through IP.
The Makara Innovation Fund (MIF) is one of the few funds in the world with an innovation theme. It will invest S$30 to S$150 million across 10 to 15 small to mid-cap innovative enterprises – from anywhere in the world, including Singapore – with proven and defensible IPs or globally competitive technologies and grow them either from or through Singapore. Sectors of interest include: urban solutions (e.g. logistics, security, waste management), advanced technologies, (e.g. AI, big data,cybersecurity, nanotech), fin-tech, alternative energy, healthcare, and bio-med.
At the broader level, we wanted to co-operate with private equity because we wanted to enrich the range of growth capital and financing options for innovative companies. We also wanted to tap on the expertise and experience of private equity players in assessing and helping companies grow, which is key to our focus on IP commercialisation in the next phase of our growth as an IP hub.
IPRdaily：We can see that Singapore is paying a lot more attention to innovation. What is the current innovation scene in Singapore? Other than the Makara Innovation Fund, what other initiatives is IPOS launching to stimulate innovative activities in Singapore?
Daren TANG: Building an ideas-driven and innovation-intensive economy is crucial for Singapore. Last year, our sixth five-year R&D plan – a $19 billion Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 to capture more value from our R&D. Our efforts have positioned us favorably in global innovation rankings such as the Global Innovation Index (GII) and the Bloomberg Innovation Index (BII) .
Moving forward, our focus is to convert the R&D outcomes into marketable IP assets which businesses can monetise and commercialise. Revenue streams from these IP assets can then be reinvested for new ideas and R&D.
For a start, IPOS has established a founding partnership with SG-Innovate where we deploy IP experts to help deep-tech start-ups translate innovative technologies from R&D into products and services. To equip our local businesses with IP know-how and management expertise, we partnered the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), Singapore’s largest business association, to help their members access IPOS’ suite of IP services such as IP training and education, as well as advisory in IP management and strategy.
To encourage domestic innovation and support our innovators, we lowered our filing fees in April this year so that obtaining IP protection is now cheaper upfront. Likewise, to discourage IP hoarding which stifles innovation, we adjusted the renewal fees upwards so that IP owners are encouraged to release IPs which they no longer need.
IPRdaily：How can businesses seek protection of their intellectual property rights in Singapore?
Daren TANG: We have enhanced our IP filing processes to fuss-free for applicants through an e-filing portal - IP2SG https://www.ip2.sg. The portal has several self-help tools and features to make IP applications user-friendly. For example, we introduced a pre-approved database descriptions of goods and/or services for trademark applications. With this, applicants will not face any specification objections, save on unnecessary fees to amend the descriptions and enjoy an expeditious trade mark registration process. There are also online video tutorials to guide applicants along. For applicants who prefer to meet face-to-face, we have a customer service center, IP101, conveniently located in the city center, where applicants can receive personalised assistance for their IP filing needs or queries.
IPRdaily：China and Singapore signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to cooperate in the area of intellectual property back in 2014. Can you share some of the areas of cooperation major achievement in these few years?
Daren TANG: Singapore and China re-affirmed their commitment and strong cooperative spirit at the 13th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) with the signing of a trilateral MOU between the State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO), IPOS, and the Guangdong Provincial Government in February 2017.
The MOU will leverage on the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City (SSGKC) as an IP reform pilot zone and connect innovative Chinese enterprises looking to internationalise with Singapore companies, to expand and grow along the Belt and Road initiative.
The SSGKC has seen rapid developments since the signing of the first MOU in 2014. SSGKC was chosen as the location for one of China’s three IP courts as well as the location for a SIPO satellite patent examination centre. The PRC State Council also approved the SSGKC to pilot an IP Application and Protection Reform.
Additionally, we also noted that the number of patent applications between Singapore and China has increased significantly in the last few years. For instance, patent fillings from Chinese applicants to Singapore have increased 87% in 2015, as compared to 2012. In the same year to year comparison, patent fillings to China from Singapore applicants in 2015 jumped 44% from 2012.
IPRdaily：Singapore set up the first overseas IP office in Guangzhou, China in 2015. Can you share how the China Representative Office is helping Chinese and Singapore companies innovate and internationalise?
Daren TANG: The IPOS IP representative office will connect innovative Chinese enterprises with Singapore’s IP expertise and extensive IP networks to access global and regional markets. This way, Chinese enterprises can use Singapore as a springboard to seamlessly bring their innovative technologies and IP assets to global markets.
For example, the representative office will link up Chinese enterprises which are keen to venture to Southeast Asia with quality IP partners and services. This will enable Chinese firms to develop a good understanding of their destination markets and tailor an appropriate IP and business strategy.
Chinese firms can also leverage on Singapore’s strong IP regime and IP cooperation agreements (e.g. ASPEC, GPPH ) to obtain IP protection speedily and foray into Southeast Asian markets confidently.
Similarly, the representative office will work with the relevant local authorities to help Singapore enterprises that are looking to set up a presence in SSGKC and as a springboard for future ventures into China.
IPRdaily：Congratulations on being elected as the Chairperson of the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR). What does this mean for IPOS? Could you share your leadership philosophy and the work plan as the Chairperson?
Daren TANG: I am humbled and honoured to be supporting the SCCR’s work as its Chairperson. Copyright serves a crucial function in today’s data-intensive, content-driven digital economy. Together with the WIPO member states, we would like to develop a vibrant and robust copyright system for the global economy that fosters creativity and drives economic growth.
The 34th session of the WIPO SCCR was recently held in May, and our current focus is on reviewing the international protection for broadcasting organisations.
We are also looking at limitations and exceptions in copyright protection for educational activities, libraries and archives, and people with disabilities.
As the Chair, my main role is to manage the complex and challenging negotiating dynamics of the SCCR. I hope to tap on my experience as an international negotiator as well as the head of the IP office to find common areas, and for Singapore to serve as a bridge between the different perspectives on the many topics being discussed.
IPRdaily: What do you think of the current IP cooperation arrangements between China and Singapore? What other plans can we expect China and Singapore to embark on in the future?
Daren TANG: Exciting times lie ahead for both countries. China and Singapore have embraced innovation as a way to drive economic growth. Asian enterprises are becoming more sophisticated, and are increasingly inventing or creating their own innovations and creative works. Hence, it is vital to forge an ecosystem that supports sustainable innovations and vibrant commercialization of IP assets.
Singapore will work closely with China to broaden our IP cooperation and help our enterprises monetize their innovations and grow internationally along the Belt and Road through IP.
Our training arm, IP Academy Singapore (IPA), has established several partnerships with top Chinese institutions. For example, we have MOUs with Jinan University and Renmin University. We also had the pleasure of senior IP directors from established Chinese organizations such as Baidu, Qihoo, Xiaomi, ZTE, Renmin University, and Peking University, to speak at our IP seminars.
In the last week of August, IPOS will be collaborating with SIPO to organise a Belt and Road IP conference in Singapore, as part of the annual IP Week @ SG conference that IPOS organises. We hope to see more participants and speakers from China.
As IP and innovation increasingly take the centre-stage to drive economic growth, we look forward to fostering deeper ties with China to build up IP manpower capabilities.
IPRdaily：As the chairman of the IP Academy Singapore, What is your plan and expectation of the future development of IP Academy Singapore?
Daren TANG: IP Academy Singapore (IPA), the education and training arm of IPOS, aims to be the leading centre for excellence in IP education, and to grow a vibrant network of skilled IP professionals and users through quality education. IPA provides IP training for local and international students and professionals, through executive and post-graduate certifications, Master’s degree programmes and e-learning.
We offer various IP courses and programmes to imbue relevant IP knowledge to lawyers, researchers, engineers, businesses as well as public officers.
At the regional level, we have MOUs with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), Jinan University, Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City (SSGKC), University of Strasbourg (Centre for International Intellectual Property Studies) and Dubai’s Department Economic Development to provide customised IP training courses and programmes. Just last week, I signed an MOU with Professor Liu Chuntian of Renmin University to further strengthen the ties between IPA, IPOS and Renmin University.
IPA will continue to work with international and domestic organisations to train IP professionals, build useful networks and to deepen our collaboration with China by creating a network of IP professionals through our training programmes.
IPRdaily：Thank you very much for your precious time!
Daren TANG: Thank you!
Reporter: Camila (firstname.lastname@example.org)