31 Jan
2017

IP Bridge expands patent fund activities beyond Japan to tap Southeast Asia's innovation promise

Back in October last year, Japanese sovereign patent fund (SPF) operator IP Bridge signed a memorandum of understanding with Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC). Under the terms of the deal, IP Bridge and MDEC – a Malaysian government agency tasked with promoting development of the country’s information and communications technology (ICT) industry – will cooperate on IP creation, commercialisation and monetisation. The hook-up will also help Malaysian high-tech businesses “to leverage… Japan’s vast research and development field for creating innovations in technology as well as entering the Japanese market”.

I recently spoke to IP Bridge CEO Shigeharu Yoshii about the SPF’s collaboration with MDEC, as well as the wider IP-related opportunities that Southeast Asia presents for Japanese businesses and investors. Yoshii-san’s insights on that topic can be read in the most recent issue of IAM, where we take a deep-dive look at the IP value creation landscape in the region. Here is our full interview with him, exclusively for IAM blog readers.

What opportunities does the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc present from your perspective?

The ASEAN economy is growing rapidly and needs various technologies and related engineers. SMEs in Japan are holding various technologies and engineers which can support ASEAN market needs. IP Bridge can connect them both to create high-potential businesses. That can also have a positive impact on expanding the local labour markets.

The GDP of ASEAN has been growing by about 5% year-on-year. The population of ASEAN is over 600 million and growing. The IP protection environment has improved significantly compared with 10 years ago. And the country with the number one ‘doing business’ environment last year was Singapore, according to the World Bank. Altogether, IP Bridge believes that ASEAN represents a massive opportunity. 

What are IP Bridge’s objectives for the ASEAN market?

We want to promote Open Innovation in ASEAN countries. Certain companies in ASEAN countries wish to use Japanese technologies. Both sides, however, have little chance to meet each other without an agent. IP Bridge would like to work as that agent. We may also seek opportunities to jointly work together with local companies, as well as to make investments and take equity stakes, to create and grow new businesses.

Southeast Asian jurisdictions have historically had a negative reputation in terms of IP protection. How problematic is this for IP Bridge? Does it make it more difficult to enforce patents and make investments?

The Japan Patent Office accepted 4,661 trainees from other Asian countries, and dispatched 569 Japanese patent specialists to those countries, between 1996 and 2014. Some of those trainees have gone on to become the patent office commissioners of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Perhaps partly as a result of these circumstances, the bad reputation that ASEAN countries have had in terms of IP protection has been improving in Japan. And since the overall trend in ASEAN is towards improvement of IP systems, IP Bridge does not feel uneasy with running innovation-centric businesses based on IP assets in those countries.

When the collaboration with MDEC was announced, it was mentioned that IP Bridge will help Malaysian businesses to leverage “Japan’s vast research and development field”. What does this entail?

In Japan, the conventional approach to innovation is changing – from closed to open innovation. Now, many Japanese companies recognise IP Bridge as a business enabler, encouraging cooperation and knowledge-sharing based on IP assets. Therefore, in our collaboration with MDEC, IP Bridge will not only take Japanese technologies and expertise to Malaysia, but we are also confident that we can introduce Malaysian inventions relating to ICT to Japan.

How can IP Bridge assist Malaysian companies, as well as those from elsewhere in Southeast Asia, to do business in Japan?

One example is that we are currently planning to open an incubation office in Tokyo for ASEAN start-ups. IP Bridge will also support them in finding strategic and financial partners to build new businesses together in Japan.

No doubt, some of the issues raised in the interview will be discussed at IPBC Southeast Asia, which takes place in Singapore on 3rd March. Satoshi Konno, director of strategy and innovation at IP Bridge, is one of the speakers at the event.  

Jack Ellis

Writer