Speech by Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon East GRC at the Second Reading of the Patent (Amendment) Bill [Bill No. 6/2017]
Madam, Singapore has come a long way from being described as “the piracy capital of the world” in the 1980s, to having an Intellectual Property regime that is consistently ranked in international surveys as one of the best in the world.
I rise in support of these amendments which balances strengthening the IP rights regime which encourages investment in R&D and innovation, while recognising that excessive protection of products or services that are not truly novel can hinder innovation and entrepreneurship.
The Bill discontinues the supplementary examination route and requires at least the examination to be done in Singapore. This creates a more rigorous check on the quality of patents, and ensures that successful patents are truly deserving of legal protection.
Commending the new section 14(4)(e)
I also welcome the new section 14(4)(e) which broadens the 12-month “grace period” exception to determining whether an invention is novel, as this takes into account business needs and practical realities.
First, it is entirely plausible for a would-be inventor to disclose details of his invention in reasonable circumstances outside the narrow exceptions listed in section 14(4) – (7). Previous case law has set a high standard that novelty would be ruined as long as even one member of the public has unrestricted use of the information. This is problematic especially where would-be inventors, in their excitement or by slip of tongue, informally discuss details of the invention with family members or close friends. The heavy penalty of unpatentability and the wastage of months or years of working worth large sums of money is unfair, and the law should be flexible enough to allow for such minor disclosures to be excused.
Second, the two narrow exceptions for prior disclosure, namely display at an international exhibition or by description in a paper read before a learned society, are unduly restrictive. It is conceivable that would-be inventors make disclosures that are entirely reasonable for their professions, especially in the scientific fields. For example, scientists often give journalistic interviews or write scientific journals on laboratory breakthroughs that they have discovered, even before commercialisation of a product from the said discovery. Such disclosures are commonplace in STEM academia, where articles in prestigious journals could determine the standing of a scientist in his community. To have no invention patentable from such a disclosure would unfairly impose a period of silence on the scientist, who may only publicly-disclose his breakthrough until after the date of patent filing.
Clarification on new section 14(4)(e)
I wish to raise just one point for clarification:
The new section 14(4)(e) refers to “disclosure of matter constituting an invention to the public” while existing sections 14(4)(a) to (d) merely refer to “disclosure”. Can the Minister clarify if there is any substantive difference in terms of what amounts to disclosure between the wording in section 14(4)(a) to (d) and 14(4)(e)? Do we retain the common law understanding that disclosure even to one person not under an obligation of confidence constitutes disclosure to the public?
Madam, the amendments are welcomed changes, which create a patent landscape conducive for Singapore’s transformation into an innovative economy. I look forward to more local innovators taking advantage of and flourishing under our robust intellectual property protection regime.