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Learn more about Intellectual Property in Singapore

Intellectual property is a branch of law that groups together all the rules relating to so-called “intangible” creations. These creations constitute intangible assets on which it is possible to obtain exclusive rights. Singapore offers one of the strongest legal regimes for the protection of intellectual property rights. This city-state, which is very attractive to international companies, has made IP competitiveness an important issue in its economic policy. A foreign entrepreneur can therefore, with the advice of a specialized lawyer, invest in Singapore while ensuring that his intellectual property rights will be well protected. Singapore ranks 2nd in the world in terms of rights protection according to a report established by the World Economic Forum and 1st in Asia.

Table of contents

What are intellectual property rights?

Traditionally, intellectual property includes industrial property on the one hand and literary and artistic property on the other. The main intellectual property rights are copyright, author’s rights, patent, trademark, trade secret, geographical indications and industrial design.

Recently, the Singapore government has amended several rules relating to intellectual property by adopting the Singapore Intellectual Property Strategy (SIPS). The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) is the government agency in charge of its implementation.

The SIPS makes changes to the rules for patents, trademarks, international registration of trademarks, designs and international registration of geographical indications.

1. Copyright law

Any work of the mind, provided that it is “original” and expressed in a tangible form (recording, writing, CD-ROM, etc.) may be protected by copyright in Singapore. Thus, an idea or a concept cannot be protected by copyright. Copyright is acquired without formality, by the very fact of the creation of the work. The ownership of the copyright belongs to the creator. However, works created by an employee may belong to the employer if the contract so provides. The owner of the rights can transfer them by contract to third parties.

Copyright protection for literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works generally lasts seventy years after the death of the author. In the case of sound recordings, films, photographs and performances, copyright protection extends for seventy years from the date of publication.

The main works protected by copyright are literature, musical compositions, films, photographs, computer code, specially organized data and works of art.

The rights enjoyed by the author are the rights of publication, performances, adaptation, reproduction and moral.

2. Patent law

Patents in Singapore are governed at the national level by the Patent Act 1994. Obtaining a patent offers protection for inventions provided that they are new ; inventive and industrially applicable. The following are excluded from patentability:

➤ Diagnostic methods and therapeutic or surgical treatments on the human or animal body.
➤ Inventions contrary to public policy, morality or public health.

The invention must be filed with the competent authority (IPOS) including all relevant aspects of the invention.

Patents give the owner an exclusive right to the invention for a period of twenty years during which no third party may make, use or copy a similar invention without the authorization of the patent owner.

Recently, the Singapore IP Fast Track initiative, launched in September 2020 by IPOS, allows applicants to obtain the grant of a patent in 6 months. As Singapore has ratified the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), it is possible to make a single patent application which if accepted, is valid in different countries.

3. Trademark law

A Singapore trademark is a symbol, in verbal (name) or visual (logo) form, that a company uses to distinguish and indicate its products and services.

Trademarks must follow the following requirements for the sign to be registered as a trademark must be a graphic representation, distinctive and must not be identical to an existing mark in a similar industry, so that the public is likely to be confused.

Singapore rights are established by use or registration. This means that the person or company who first and continuously registers or uses a mark obtains exclusive rights to it. However, in practice, it is strongly advised to register the trademark to establish a presumption of ownership.

In case of registration the term of protection is 10 years, indefinitely renewable. This can be very useful in case of trademark violations. Trademarks are registered with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (OSPI).

Singapore is also a signatory of the Madrid Protocol which allows the extension of a national trademark to other countries.

4. Design law

A design features of shape, configuration, colors, patterns or ornamentation applied to a non-physical article or product, may be protected by exclusive rights.

The term article includes anything that can be manufactured by an industrial process, manually or otherwise. To obtain protection, the design must be new.

Under the law, a design is not new if it has already been registered, if it has been published in Singapore or elsewhere in the world prior to the filing/priority date or if it differs from other designs only in intangible details or features that are commonly used variations in the market.

At the time of filing, a statement of novelty must be filled out, in which the new characteristics of the design are described.

The articulation between copyright and the right on registered designs is complex and depends on the creation and its exploitation.

5. Trade secret law

This is information that must remain confidential under non-disclosure or confidentiality clauses of contractual origin. It can be any information but must be mentioned in the contract to be valid.

If the confidentiality clause is breached, the offender may be sued and required to pay compensation for the breach of contract. The duration of the clause is not subject to any legal limit, it can be freely agreed between the parties.

Why hire an intellectual property lawyer?

Being a highly technical field, intellectual property attorneys can assist their clients in drafting the important documents necessary to preserve their property. These documents may include trademark registration forms, patent registration forms, deeds of assignment or transfer of ownership, license agreements and secret clauses for precautionary measures.

A Singapore IP lawyer will also be very helpful in defending the professional in case of litigation. In the event of a dispute over intellectual property rights, the lawyer will know whether it is more appropriate to initiate a civil or criminal action or to seek an out-of-court settlement of the dispute.

What are the IP rights in Singapore?

International Conventions signed by Singapore

As a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Singapore is party to:

➤ The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)
➤ The Paris Convention
➤ The Berne Convention
➤ The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT)
➤ The Madrid Protocol
➤ The Budapest Treaty
➤ The Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks

The competent authority for intellectual property

The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) is a government agency under the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) It is responsible for the implementation of the 10-year strategic plan, launched in 2013 and reviewed in 2017, to make Singapore the regional Intellectual Property Hub (IP Hub Master Plan).

Today, about 350 people work for IPOS and its subsidiary, IPOS International, described as “IPOS’ expertise and enterprise engagement arm”.

IPOS International bringing together the 3 previous subsidiaries (IP ValueLab, IPOS International and IP Academy Singapore) was launched during “IP Week” on 27-28 August 2019, to enable companies to have access to a single entity to support them in managing their IP assets.

How to protect your intellectual property rights

Intellectual property rights are in principle territorial, so the applicant of a patent or a trademark only in Singapore will not be protected in other countries. This is why there are two solutions:

➤ Register your rights in each individual country that represents a commercial interest.
➤ Use international instruments such as the Patent Cooperation Treaty, which allows a single application to have a patent valid in several countries simultaneously, or the Madrid Agreement, which reproduces the same concept for trademarks.

Legal action

Singapore’s IP courts enjoy a reputation for efficiency and impartiality. Since 2013, specialized IP judges have been set-up. Civil and criminal actions exist but no administrative actions unlike other ASEAN countries.

Extra-judicial dispute resolution

Mediation, arbitration or expertise procedures are available for most disputes at the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Centre in Singapore (WIPO ADR), the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) or the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC).

OSPI also revised its enhanced mediation promotion program, known as “EMPS” for the next 3 years in early April 2019. It encourages parties to proceedings before OSPI to choose mediation by funding the process under certain conditions, so that more people, especially SMEs, can consider mediation as an attractive alternative, to resolve their disputes amicably.

In addition, Singapore has signed, along with 45 other countries (52 as of March 2020) including the United States and China, a United Nations Convention on International Mediation Settlement Agreements (Singapore Convention on Mediation) on August 7, 2019 in Singapore.

From the same date, August 7, 2019, businesses and creators who choose mediation at the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center to resolve their copyright disputes in Singapore will be eligible for reduced rates.

What are the penalties for non-compliance with IP?

1. Civil sanctions

As far as civil sanctions are concerned, it is possible in case of infringement of one or more intellectual property rights to obtain damages, an injunction to stop the infringement and the destruction of the infringing goods.

2. Criminal sanctions

Criminal proceedings are reserved for trademark and copyright cases. These can be initiated by the right holder or by the specialized anti-counterfeiting division of the Singapore Police Force (IPRB).

Fines and imprisonment for infringers are dissuasive and therefore effective (e.g. for trademarks, up to SGD 100,000 and/or up to 5 years imprisonment).

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