Parliamentary Question on 29 January 2015
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Law since 2001 (a) how many times have our Ministries, agencies and statutory boards, or Government-linked Companies (GLCs) applied to the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) for revocation of patents, registered trademarks or registered designs belonging to local intellectual property (IP) owners; (b) how many revocations have been granted; (c) what are the main reasons for revocation; and (d) how many complaints has the Government received from local IP owners about our Ministries, agencies and statutory boards, or GLCs infringing their IP rights.
The Senior Minister of State for Law (Ms Indranee Rajah) (for the Minister for Law): Madam, there have been two revocation applications made since 2001. These were not made to IPOS but in the High Court, in the context of counterclaims to proceedings.
The first case was Mobilestats Technologies Pte Ltd v Attorney-General. The plaintiff claimed in court that the defendant had infringed its patent. The Court held that the plaintiff’s patent was invalid and revoked it.
The second case was Yiap Hang Boon v Housing Development Board. The court held that the patent was invalid and revoked it.
The Ministry of Law and IPOS have not received any other complaints which allege that the Government has infringed the IP rights of local IP owners.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: Mdm Speaker, I have four supplementary questions for the Senior Minister of State.
First, I understand IPOS has its own established process for parties to apply to revoke a patent. What are the considerations for Government agencies in deciding to go to the Courts instead of to IPOS to apply for revocation of patents?
Second, does IPOS grant patents for inventions which are not patentable, meaning they are not new, they do not have an inventive step or do not have industrial applications?
The third question: The patent search and examination process is a highly technical and complex process to determine if an invention is patentable. It has taken years for IPOS to build up its patent search and examination capabilities. So, how much technical expertise do our Courts have to subsequently decide which patents that IPOS has granted are now invalid?
Lastly, I am sure the Senior Minister of State agrees that patents are very important to the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Singapore because they encourage inventors to invest time and money to develop their ideas and have the assurance that others will be prevented from using and profiting from their inventions. Have the recent cases of patent battles, including these two cases which the Senior Minister of State has mentioned, between entrepreneurs and Government agencies, affected in any way the confidence among businesses, both local and foreign, that Singapore is a good place to develop and launch their intellectual property?
Ms Indranee Rajah: Mdm Speaker, may I just clarify with Mr Giam on the first question? He referred to IPOS having its own processes and he asked what considerations were taken into account. But he asked the second question following that – not a separate question but pertaining to the first one – can I just understand his full question so that I can answer it appropriately?
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: The first question was regarding why the Government agencies would go to the Courts instead of going to IPOS to apply to revoke patents, since IPOS has its own patent revocation process. Why do they go to the Courts? The second question was—
Ms Indranee Rajah: That is fine. That was the part I needed to clarify.
With respect to the first question which was what considerations IPOS takes into account, the patent protection accorded varies from country to country. Patent protection in each country is granted by its patent office, and most countries adopt the internationally recognised criteria of novelty, inventive step and industrial applicability to ascertain whether a patent should be granted. Each patent office conducts its own search and examination. The determination of whether an invention meets the criteria for obtaining a patent depends very much on the relevant body of knowledge and technology that the examiner is able to find in the public domain within the time available and his evaluation of the information found.
With respect to the second part of that question, Mr Giam asked in what circumstances would Government agencies go to the Court instead of IPOS. As I had mentioned earlier, the two cases in question arose in the context of counterclaims.
With respect to the second question, Mr Giam asked whether IPOS would grant patents for inventions which are not patentable. As I mentioned earlier, each patent office will do its own search and examination. It will look at the criteria of novelty, inventive step and industrial applicability and ascertain whether, on the face of it, the patent can be granted. I should say, however, that all patents that are granted are potentially open to challenges by other parties. The grant of a patent does not guarantee that the patent will never be successfully challenged in Court since the patent office grants patents without the benefit of hearing arguments by other parties as to why a patent should not be granted. Recognising that it is not possible for a patent examiner to be aware of all the relevant body of knowledge and technology that is publicly available worldwide, patent systems in the world generally allow for the validity of patents which have been granted to be contested, and Singapore is no exception.
With respect to the third question, Mr Giam asked about the search and examination process. He mentioned that it was highly complex and he asked how much expertise the Court has to determine the validity of a patent. This is no different from any other subject matter brought to the Court which is of a technical or complex nature. In the usual course, the Court will have the benefit of the assistance of expert witnesses in order to do this.
In the fourth question, Mr Giam said that intellectual property is important to entrepreneurship and asked whether the recent cases would affect confidence in Singapore as a place for protection of intellectual property. As far as the Ministry of Law is aware, it has not affected the confidence of investors and entrepreneurs in the intellectual property regime in Singapore.