Jack Ellis

A new Singapore government report recommends “bringing in” or creating patent monetisation entities, as well as other kinds of other intermediary, to boost the country’s IP commercialisation capabilities.

Published earlier this week, the report comes from the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), which was established in January 2016 to review Singapore’s longer term economic strategy. Among seven broad strategy recommendations made one to “strengthen enterprise capabilities to innovate and scale up”, with IP value creation a central pillar.

Many IAM readers will be aware that the development of a market-focused IP ecosystem has been high on the Singaporean policy agenda for some time. The country's leaders have been keen to promote its credentials as a regional ‘IP hub’, launching initiatives in areas including valuation, IP-backed financing and alternative dispute resolution.

In its report, the CFE says Singapore should further strengthen its IP system to “better support innovation and technology adoption”. Among the specific measures proposed are the development of a standardised IP protocol for all public agencies and publicly funded research performers in order to simplify and shorten IP negotiations, as well as to speed up collaborations with industry. It also suggests that an update of the 2013 IP Hub Master Plan is due. This should shift focus from “attracting IP-related work and activities” – an area where the report claims Singapore has “achieved fair success” – to “assisting innovators and enterprises to extract value from their IP”.

Of particular interest are the report’s proposals for strengthening IP commercialisation activity. The CFE states that Singapore should “significantly grow the community of IP and commercialisation experts (lawyers, patent attorneys, valuers, managers, strategists) to support the commercialisation of innovation” and should also “develop IP management capabilities in the public and private sectors to help manage and translate innovation and R&D efforts into commercial outcomes”.

Specifically, the report states that Singapore “should consider establishing or bringing in dedicated commercially-oriented entities that are focused on the commercialisation of IP generated by our IHLs [institutes of higher learning] and other research performers based in Singapore” and that “these entities can complement the current innovation and enterprise offices”.

While no further detail is given, it is clear that NPEs and related intermediaries would fit this bill. For those that need ‘bringing in’ – in other words, that already exist and operate elsewhere in the world – the government may need to offer some form of incentive. Singapore is a relatively tiny market with a highly services-based economy, so taken as a jurisdiction in and of itself it holds little attraction for business models centred on monetising patents. But as a place in which to base operations for targeting larger neighbours such as China, India and Japan, it could prove compelling, should the right conditions be in place. It's worth noting that Intellectual Ventures has its Asian HQ in the city state.   

The other option mentioned in the CFE report is to establish such entities autochthonously. Assuming that this would involve some public funding, and given that a primary objective is to commercialise university and public sector IP assets, Singapore may decide to follow a similar path to that taken by other governments in the region and set up a sovereign patent fund (SPF). South Korea and Japan were among the first three countries to launch SPFs (along with France), while China and Taiwan have also toyed with the model.

One common feature to each of those examples is that buying patents, including US assets in particular, has been a central tenet of their respective missions. The CFE report makes no mention of patent acquisitions – but there is no reason why that mightn’t change farther down the line. (In fact, it looks like Japan’s first SPF – IP Bridge – already has its sights set on entering the Singaporean IP market, having been vocal about its expansion plans in the wider ASEAN region and just today announcing a partnership with Lion City-based start-up incubator JFDI.)

With the government expected to provide policy responses to some of the CFE’s recommendations when it presents its annual budget on Monday, there will be plenty to discuss come 3rd March, when IAM is hosting IPBC Southeast Asia at the Singapore Grand Hyatt.