Reflections from IP Week @ SG 2019

Contributed by: Lenon Ong, Sze Yuan Lim, Sreshya Vishwanathan, and Chen Rong

Edited by: Benjamin Ho

At IP Week 2019 (“IP Week”), members of the NUS Law Intellectual Property Students’ Association (“IPSA”) learned about the latest developments and issues surrounding Intellectual Property (“IP”) that practitioners often face and grapple with. The event also provided members with ample opportunities to network with outstanding individuals from a multitude of industries, and also brought awareness to the interconnectedness of law, innovation, business, and technology in today’s advanced economy through the plenary discussions chaired by distinguished guests.

1. IP and Singapore

New initiatives by IPOS

This year, the Intellectual Property of Singapore (“IPOS”) unveiled a series of initiatives to help Singapore attain her goal of being a regional IP hub. Such initiatives include the launch of IPOS International and the Institute of Singapore Trademark Agents. It also kickstarted the Future Leaders in INnovation Transformation (“FLINT”) programme which seeks to nurture the next generation of young innovators and entrepreneurial students by increasing awareness of and promoting the utilisation of intellectual property rights. 

More specifically, through a story-telling workshop covering trademarks, patents and designs, FLINT seeks to engender an appreciation for how businesses could use IP to protect their rights. Our members enjoyed how interactive, concise yet detailed the session was, and gleaned insights into the commercial considerations behind the use of IP in corporate decision-making. It is certainly heartening that students of the near future will be well-acquainted and engaged with IP! 

2. IP and Business

Designs in a New Area of Business Growth

At the panel discussion entitled Designs in a New Area of Business Growth, the panel comprising both legal and business professionals shared about the uses of registered designs for businesses, which gave our members deeper insights into the commercial role that IP plays in business. 

One interesting fact cited during the discussion is that in Asia alone, the number of registered designs has grown exponentially in recent years.  These encompass creations such as the graphical user interface and design of products. 

Interestingly, from this panel discussion, our members also learned that registering an IP right as a design right confers several advantages over other IP rights, such as the ease of registration, low cost and the ease of obtaining infringement remedies. President of the International Trademark Association (“INTA”), Mr. David Lossignol, also expounded on how INTA supported designs through issuing model design law guidelines and submitting comments to various jurisdictions on designs work. Overall, it was a holistic discussion of a new area of IP.

Capitalising on the Intangible Economy: Are We Ready for It?

Riding on the global shift towards a knowledge-based economy, intangible assets are becoming increasingly vital for enterprise growth. In fact, more than half the value of the global economy today rests in intangible assets such as data and IP. Yet, unlike tangible assets, the management, use and valuation of intangibles remain a challenge. At the business plenary session entitled Capitalising on the Intangible Economy: Are We Ready for It?, the panel comprising Ms. Wendi Backler, Mr. Robert Fletcher, Dr. Debora Revoltella, Mr. Kevin Lee and Professor Stephen Phua answered questions from the ground including: Are we pricing our brands right? Do we need to insure our ideas? 

The expert panel also shared on how the global economy might soon ready itself for a market that is increasingly powered by intangible assets with novel tools and policies. Their views were highly illuminating and diverse in explaining the varied effects of digitalisation on the local economy.

  • Policy Concerns in Digitalising Economies

To start off, Dr. Debora Revoltella addressed growing concerns in capitalising on the value of intangible assets, an issue that has plagued Singapore and the European Union alike. It is interesting to note that such concerns on digitalisation are cross-cutting across various jurisdictions and have introduced an era of promoting greater dialogue between foreign stakeholders in solving such concerns collectively. In noting the practical difficulties in encouraging corporations to digitalise for greater productivity, Dr. Revoltella observed that a confluence of strong institutional support by incentivising firms to digitalise and greater competition between emerging market players may be necessary to smoothen the process of digitalising intangible assets.

  • Patents, IP and…Patenting Zombie Technology?

Next, Dr. Robert Fletcher presented on legal developments in IP in light of novel technological inventions. From quoting amusing examples of “zombie technology” patents to litigation insurance schemes to specifically insure start-ups against the risk of being litigated against, Dr. Fletcher gave a highly informative overview of the developing IP landscape in the United States. He further engaged the audience by sharing anecdotes and his experience as a patent attorney in the United States.

  • Tax and Intangible Assets

Professor Stephen Phua subsequently shared about the need to maintain defensible tax regimes amid an increasingly digitalised economy. He notes that governments have become more aware of how growing intangibility – engendered by an increasingly digitalised economy – can potentially allow tax residents to sidestep tax regulations. He warns for tax-planners to remain cognisant of tightening taxation laws in various jurisdictions, which invariably affect the amount of scrutiny that would be placed on various tax regimes.

  • Cybersecurity and Data Protection in Singapore

Last, Mr. Kevin Lee shared about the current state of law in relation to cybersecurity in Singapore. In citing the recent case of Global Yellow Pages v. Promedia Directories Pte Ltd and another matter [2017] SGCA 28 concerning the absence a sui generis database right, Mr. Lee notes key deficiencies in data protection within Singapore law. In addition, he emphasised the need to promote better data protection practices in various industries.

3. IP and the Judiciary

At the plenary discussion entitled Judges’ Panel, judges from the United States, United Kingdom, China and Singapore shared about the salient issues from the key IP cases in their respective jurisdictions, explained their respective controversies, the judicial reasoning behind such judgments, as well as their personal thoughts on each matter.

Such controversies included the application of the first sale doctrine in copyright to digitally resold digital books, the subjective versus objective test for infringement of second medical use patents, as well as the test for acquired distinctiveness of a trademark. The recent Tom Kabinet case was one of several controversial cases that drew comment from the panel in respect of copyright issues.

The panel also illumined that the modernisation of statutes has become imperative in the face of technological advancements and also necessitates the judicial recalibration of conflicting interests. Indeed, the effective development of IP law is dependent on forthcoming judicial interpretation.

Additionally, for Singapore, there appears to be a renewed effort to address the deficiencies of legal infrastructure vis-a-vis the IP industry. One such example raised was the setting up of a separate track for smaller value IP disputes. In that vein, Chinese IP Judge Cen HongYu also shared on the new Chinese Intellectual Property Court which aims to effectively safeguard IP rights.

4. Closing statements

IP Week 2019 offered a panoply of fresh perspectives to key legal developments, and also provided much expert views from the business and judicial perspective. Our members who attended overwhelmingly enjoyed the opportunity to hear from leaders in the legal and the business sphere, and keep abreast of emerging trends in the IP arena.

From the perspective of a student, IP Week 2019 has broadened its appeal beyond practitioners and IP counsel with its FLINT programme. Nevertheless, it still remains an event tailored to practitioners. Though the panel discussions were both forward-looking and enriching topic-wise, one area of improvement would be lengthening the Q&A sessions to allow greater discussion and interaction with the speakers. We look forward to attending IP Week 2020. 

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