Keynote Speech by Chief Executive, IPOS for Centre for Business and Law Conference

Keynote Speech by Chief Executive, IPOS for Centre for Business and Law Conference




ON TUESDAY, 25th AUGUST 2015, 2.30 PM



The Chief Executive of IPOS, Mr Tan Yih San, and Panellists at the NUS-CLB event during IP Week @ SG 2015

The Chief Executive of IPOS, Mr Tan Yih San, and Panellists at the NUS-CLB event during IP Week @ SG 2015

The following is the transcript of the speech delivered by the Chief Executive of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, Mr Tan Yih San, at the keynote conference organised by the National University of Singapore’s Centre for Law and Business, during IP Week @ SG 2015.

Mr Simon Chesterman, Dean of NUS Law School,

Distinguished Guests, especially those that have come from afar

Ladies and Gentlemen,


A good afternoon to all. To our overseas guests, a very warm welcome to Singapore.

I am honoured to be invited back to the second NUS Centre for Law & Business IP Conference.

I recall the inaugural IP Conference, held last year, was titled “Framing Intellectual Property Law in the 21st century”.

This year’s follow-up is a timely follow-on that goes deeper into “IP Interoperability in ASEAN and beyond”.

If European and some South American experiments are any to go by, regional IP economic architecture could well take the centre stage in the 21st Century.

Interoperability as contrasted with harmonisation is one of the three IP policy pillars in Singapore. I therefore hope to learn more from the distinguished group of thought leaders today.

I also wish to congratulate the fruition of a forthcoming book project by Siew Kuan and Graeme.

The choice of this year’s theme is indeed most appropriate and relevant. Let me explain.

The world has struggled with harmonisation of Intellectual Property Law in the past decades.

Harmonisation often entailed much adjustment to IP regimes and frequently evoked emotional responses and is perceived by some as sovereignty lost.

Faced with globalization, the territorial nature of IP regimes across the world is risking relevance.

For the IP regime to remain useful, the new IP architecture of the world must embrace the following developments. I should outline three key areas.


First, innovation is becoming more collaborative and is increasingly international in nature.

Scientists, highly-skilled workers and students have greater mobility. There has been a sharp increase in the share of peer-reviewed science and engineering articles with international co-authorship1 .

There is a rising share of patents that list inventors from more than one country. A WIPO report in 2012 showed that on average, around 56% of all PCT patent filings prosecuted by residents had at least one foreign inventor listed as a co-patentee2.

Second, businesses and trading patterns are going international.

Cross-border trade is growing both globally and regionally. Total global exports have increased 165% in value since 20003 .

Within Europe, patterns of trade have given economic impetus for EU’s IP regimes to be harmonised. Exports into the EU make up over half of total exports in nearly every EU country, and in some countries the share even exceeds 70%4 .

Growth in intra-ASEAN trade surged more than seven-fold from 1993 to 2013 reaching US$609 billion in 2013, as opposed to extra-ASEAN trade which grew more than five times in the same period5 .

Third, the digital world is rendering the notion of territorial boundaries obsolete. Consumers for an IP-protected good or service need no longer be in the same country where that good or service is marketed and sold.

A 2015 survey of more than 9000 respondents in 17 countries revealed that 82% of global respondents report making an online purchase from a merchant outside their home country, and spending about US$300 a year on such cross-border items6 .

Meanwhile, an estimated 60% of total online shopping sales in Singapore come from foreign websites in 2014, whereas in Malaysia, the percentage is closer to 40%7 .

Taking into account these three trends, it is clear that a territorial outlook on IP regimes is fast becoming less relevant.

To stay relevant, IP offices from different countries will have to find a way to work with the other offices and stakeholders to protect this cross-border trading of ideas in addition to goods and services.

The ASEAN Working Group on Intellectual Property Cooperation, or AWGIPC, has begun to make some adjustments. But more can be done.


In ASEAN, one of the challenges we face in achieving interoperability is that of language.

The use of certain languages is often linked to strong emotive ideas about heritage and self-identity.

In fact, our European counterparts working on the Unitary Patent have amply demonstrated how language can be a barrier to collaboration between IP regimes.

Within ASEAN, we also hold on to our own languages because of strong links with our cultural heritage. The ten-member ASEAN bloc is home to more than 1000 languages8 .

Despite this, there is a growing acceptance amongst all the ASEAN Member States that English can be the working language, or even the lingua franca, of the region.

The ASEAN Patent Examination Co-operation or ASPEC, our patent work-sharing programme in ASEAN, is an example of a positive step in the correct direction.

ASPEC operates in the English language in all participating ASEAN Member State offices.

Examples of other initiatives launched by AWGIPC that are also in English include the ASEAN Intellectual Property Portal, a website which gives information about IP regimes in ASEAN in English.

Tools that help ASEAN trademark and design professionals like TMview, TMclass and Designview, the latter two we just launched earlier today at IP Fiesta, also operate in English.

Therefore, ASEAN has taken a first step to overcome language barriers, at least in the area of IP prosecution. There is still room to go to make substantive examinations done in a few common languages.

Another challenge we face is the different legal heritages and systems we have in ASEAN.

Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and Vietnam, for example, are civil law countries whereas Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore are common law countries. The Philippines utilises a mixed regime of both common and civil law9.

Any effort to increase interoperability between IP regimes will have to deal with the issues of having two very different legal families within the region.

Rules that are agreed amongst different ASEAN countries will be treated differently when transposing into domestic legislation in common and in civil law countries.

I remain hopeful though, that these challenges can be resolved. And, more can be done. And should be done.

We can certainly take a leaf from our European counterparts.


Finally, in closing, I would like move and refocus back to interoperating with the two giants of our time: China and the US.

Trade with China constituted 70 to 80% of ASEAN’s external trade in 201510.

Their One Belt, One Road initiative announced in 2013 will bring with it investments into the region, which means that more than ever, we need to look at our IP regimes with an external-facing view.

Meanwhile, our relations with our US counterpart remain strong. The ASEAN countries, together, rank 4th as an export market for the US and 5th largest supplier of imports in 201311.

The Southeast Asian region remains an important region, economically and politically, not least because we have the ability to work together and between these two giants, and we should continue to build on that ability.

We live in exciting times.

I look forward to an afternoon of fruitful discussion.

Thank you.

(Prepared by: Ms Soh Lili, Strategic Planning and Policy Department)

[1] World Intellectual Property Organisation, The Changing Face of Innovation: WIPO World Intellectual Property Report (Geneva: WIPO, 2011), 37.

[2] World Intellectual Property Organisation, WIPO Global Innovation Index (Geneva: WIPO, 2012), 47.

[3] The World Bank, “Exports (in US$ Mil) for World (2000)” and “Exports (in US$ Mil) for World (2013)”, World Integrated Trade Solution [Data file], available from

[4] Vetter, Stefan, “The Single European Market 20 years on” (Frankfurt: Deutsche Bank Research, 31 October 2013), 5.

[5] The ASEAN Secretariat, “ASEAN Community in Figures – Special Edition 2014: A Closer Look at Trade Performance and Dependency, and Investment” (Jakarta: ASEAN Secretariat, October 2014), 8.

Extra-ASEAN trade grew from US$348 billion to US$1.9 trillion from 1993 to 2013. Intra-ASEAN trade is 25% of all trade in 2013, growing from US$82 billion in 1993 to US$609 billion in 2013.

[6] Forrester Research, Inc for FedEx, “Seizing The Cross-Border Opportunity – How Small and Medium-Size Online Businesses Can Go Global”, FedEx, December 2014,

[7] Zito, Matthew, Dezan Shira & Associates, “E-Commerce Markets Across ASEAN,” ASEAN Briefing, last modified 11 June 2014,

[8] Beco, Philippe, “English in Asia: Do you speak ASEAN?”, Southeast Asia Globe, last modified 9 November 2012,

[9] Central Intelligence Agency, “Legal System”, TheWorld Factbook, accessed 21 August 2015,

[10] Siow, Maria, “China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ may not benefit all in region” Channel News Asia (10 April 2015),

[11] Office of the United States Trade Representative, “U.S.- ASEAN – 10 Trade and Investment Facts”,  Office of the United States Trade Representative, accessed 21 August 2015,