Opening address by Senior Minister of State Assoc Prof Ho Peng Kee at the Global Forum on IP
8 Jan 2009 Posted in Speeches
Chairman of the IP Academy, Mr Tan Guong Ching,
Chairman of the Forum & Deputy Chairman of the IP Academy, Mr David Llewelyn,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning and a very warm welcome to Singapore. I am happy to be here this morning to open this 2nd Global Forum on Intellectual Property, or GFIP. Minister for Law, Mr. K Shanmugam, sends his apologies for not being able to join you at this event. He had planned to come and was looking forward to doing so but has now to attend an event overseas.
Unlike in 2006 when the inaugural GFIP was held, we are meeting today in difficult times. Few of us in the IP arena will be unaffected by the economic downturn. For companies, IP budgets, like other business expenditures, have come under intense pressure. This means lower demand for the IP services sector. As such, I expect IP offices to experience the effects of the downturn as companies reduce their IP registrations and renewals.
But every crisis brings both challenges and opportunities. Hence, even in today’s depressed economic conditions, opportunities exist for those who reposition themselves to take advantage of shifts in the IP landscape caused by the downturn. The players who will best weather the storm are those who can identify such opportunities, strengthen their capabilities and refocus their priorities with a view to pressing ahead when the global economy recovers.
For Companies - Resisting the Temptation to Neglect IP
- For many companies, cost containment has become an immediate priority. During hard times, the temptation for companies is to put IP on the backburner - in the face of more pressing issues like business survival. However, companies need to recognize the strategic importance of their intangible assets and continue to leverage on them, even during hard times. Only then will they be able to emerge ahead of others who are too quick to abandon their IP during a cutback.
- In fact, a downturn can be a good time for companies to pay greater attention to IP management capabilities and processes. Good IP management systems can generate tremendous cost savings just by eliminating IP from the portfolio that is no longer useful or non-core to the company’s businesses. And while such savings are one-off, the capabilities developed are not. Here, I am talking about prioritizing IP assets. Indeed, the skills and processes that are required to prioritize IP assets, to spot opportunities to generate revenue from the licensing or sale of IP assets, the culture of IP awareness developed within the company - all these become part of the company’s soft capital that will stand it in good stead after the downturn and beyond. All these can be done without incurring great costs for companies.
- Here in Singapore, the Government has put in place numerous measures to help businesses access finance and upgrade the skills of their workforce so that they will be ready to take advantage of new business opportunities when the global economy recovers. For example, I mentioned that companies may find it a good time now to build up their IP management capabilities. In Singapore, SMEs can obtain funding support for this under a programme administered by our intellectual property office, IPOS, and Spring Singapore, which is responsible for the SME sector in Singapore. This is one of the many areas in which the Government is prepared to continue spending in this downturn as we believe it is important not to lose sight of the long-term imperative of building up our SMEs’ capabilities. In the past year alone, some 45 SMEs have already benefited from the programme. I encourage more to do likewise.
For IP Services Providers - Adapting to Business Needs in a Downturn
- IP service providers have their own challenges. In these recessionary times, IP services professionals will need to articulate and demonstrate the value of IP to their stakeholders, so that they will not treat IP as a discretionary cost item to be eliminated as a first resort. IP professionals who will continue to thrive are those who are able to help their clients navigate these tough economic times and assist them in making the best possible trade-offs between reducing IP cost in the short-term and maintaining an IP portfolio that supports longer term business needs. For IP market intermediaries, opportunities may open up as companies seek to monetize their IP assets through sale and licensing and others with the financial means look to shore up their IP portfolios in preparation for the recovery. In fact, I was told that the IP auction held by Ocean Tomo, an US-based IP broker, which took place in Chicago in October 2008, generated some US$13 million in sales. This is slightly more than the US$12 million from its previous Chicago auction held in October 2007.
- We can also expect to see an increase in demand for alternative dispute resolution, or ADR services for IP disputes. Anecdotally, we hear that business has shot up significantly for the arbitration practices of many law firms. In Singapore, it is timely that in September this year, we will be launching the Maxwell Chambers, a purpose-built arbitration and mediation complex, to provide one-stop ADR services to meet the needs of businesses both within the region and beyond.
- Costs will remain a major factor when businesses decide where to get their IP work done. Asia, with its lower cost structure, and strong growth in the volume of IP filings, has become an even more attractive place for IP services providers to establish themselves and tap the market here. Here in Singapore, the demand for IP services has been growing as more MNCs shift their regional IP management and licensing activities here, and as the Singapore economy becomes increasingly innovation-focused on the back of rising public investment in R&D. We expect that demand for IP services will remain strong in the medium term. The Government is committed to helping the IP services sector raise its expertise and skills to meet this demand. For example, we have in place a programme to help IP firms in Singapore defray the cost of engaging experienced foreign patent agents to mentor trainee patent agents. This simultaneously boosts the current number of highly-skilled patent agents in Singapore and increases the pipeline of patent agents in years to come.
For IP Offices - Seizing the Opportunities in Difficult Times
- For IP offices, income will come under pressure as companies focus their IP registration and renewal to what is core to their businesses. However, on the plus side, fewer new IP applications will allow IP offices to reduce the backlog of patent and trademark applications. The downturn also presents opportunities for IP offices to attract more quality staff and retain experienced ones to expedite the processing of IP applications.
- IP offices should also take this time to work more closely together to simplify and harmonize IP registration and renewal procedures for their customers. In this connection, I am glad that the Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks, which further harmonises trademark application procedures across jurisdictions, will come into force in March this year. As noted by the WIPO Director-General, Mr Francis Gurry, in a WIPO press release, this is a good development as companies can register and manage their trademark rights more cost effectively and efficiently, which will be important during this current economic downturn. I hope more countries will consider joining this Singapore Treaty.
- Let me conclude. These difficult times will be a test of our creativity, resilience, and the strength of our focus on key imperatives in the face of short-term pressures. I hope the presence of such an illustrious gathering of distinguished leaders of the global IP community at this Forum will help forge a deeper understanding of the IP challenges involved, to help guide stakeholders to take advantage of the opportunities when the global economy recovers.
- I wish all participants a fruitful exchange of views at this Forum, and to our friends from abroad, I wish you a pleasant stay in Singapore. Thank you.
Last updated on 26 Nov 2012