Opening Address by Senior Minister of State Assoc Prof Ho Peng Kee at APEC Trading Ideas Symposium 2009
4 Aug 2009 Posted in Speeches
Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organisation,
Dr Francis Gurry,
Heads of IP Offices,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me first extend a warm welcome to friends from overseas who have made their way here for this Trading Ideas 2009 Symposium. It’s also nice to see our local participants supporting this important event. No doubt, it will be an intellectual as well as networking feast as we hear from so many eminent speakers, as well as interact informally over the lunch and tea breaks. I am sure many interesting ideas and observations in IP will emerge and their implications for businesses worldwide explored. I will not be able to stay for all the sessions but IPOS Director-General, Ms Liew Woon Yin will let me have a CD capturing these sessions.
Traditional notions of IP in the corporate world are fast evolving, and will continue to do so. In earlier days, IP was largely regarded only as an afterthought, a supplement to be considered by the legal department. Not so anymore. Products and services today have greatly increased in complexity, embedding a great deal of knowledge. Take the example of the microprocessor, possibly one of the greatest inventions of the twentieth century. In 1971, Intel released a chip with around 2,000 transistors and a clock speed of 740 kHz which was created for “high-performance desktop calculators”. Today, even the mobile phones in our pockets operate at a thousand times the speed of the first microprocessor, enabling us to perform a multitude of tasks such as voice and video calls, SMS and MMS, web surfing and email. Take an iPhone and compare it to a brick, which is what you would have called a handphone in the early 90s, and you will understand what I mean. In short, today, behind every gadget that improves our lifestyle is a tremendous amount of IP.
Companies also no longer confine themselves to domestic markets, but are active participants in many economies worldwide. A comprehensive IP management strategy is therefore essential for companies considering the use of offshoring, outsourcing across international boundaries and the global transfer of goods and services.
A good example is the Axe Brand Medicated Oil, which the Singaporeans amongst us are familiar with, manufactured by a Singapore company, Leung Kai Fook Medical Company. The oil soothes giddiness, headaches, rheumatic pain and muscular aches and is based on a formula which is more than 60 years old. Today, this medicated oil is exported to far flung destinations worldwide, with the Middle East being a significant and growing market. Apparently, Singaporean Muslims performing the Haj have used the oil to alleviate health problems, contributing to the popularity of the product by usage and word-of-mouth in the Middle East. Competition has thus become more acute, a phenomenon Leung Kai Fook did not face when Axe brand was less successful, catering only to the domestic market. Today, because of the product’s overseas success, the company has learnt to manage its IP a lot more actively.
The prevalence of international business links in the 21st century is reflected in the seriousness with which companies now approach IP management. Today, nobody disputes that IP needs to be factored into long-term business planning, with IP managers weighing in on major corporate and investment decisions. Indeed, I understand that companies such as GE, IBM and GlaxoSmithKline have senior, experienced officers performing the role of a Chief IP Officer. These officers chart the direction of R&D efforts, identify promising growth technology areas and articulate the firm’s global IP protection strategy.
The onset of the global recession has, however, made many businesses more cost conscious. Some may even be compelled to prune corporate spending in IP during these times. In a survey conducted by Corporate Counsel magazine in the US earlier this year, 59% of legal departments revealed that their budgets had been cut, while 37% had experienced staff reductions. I will not be surprised if IP managers are likewise facing increasing pressure to downsize. Such measures may be useful to meet short-term exigencies, but will likely not serve the long-term interests of any IP-creating enterprise. At a macro level, policy makers should even be concerned that the competitiveness of entire industries could be compromised should many firms think the same way. One may not see the consequences immediately, but they will be felt down the road, hopefully not too late.
In Singapore, the IP Office of Singapore or “IPOS” and SPRING Singapore, an agency that spearheads the growth of innovative companies and fosters a competitive Small and Medium Enterprise sector, mount programs to promote effective management of IP in local firms, and to cultivate their capability to do so. Such initiatives include the “IP Knowledge Kaleidoscope” that features a series of online intellectual property management factsheets to provide businesses with an insight into the many facets of their intellectual assets. Moving from theory to practice, IPOS and SPRING jointly administer the IP Management for SMEs Program. Through this program,qualifying SMEs can obtain funding to develop their IP management systems, acquire IP rights, and develop internal capabilities to manage their IP. Overall, the Government has reached out to over 2000 businesses, and over 100 companies have invested resources on IP management initiatives.
While business imperatives will vary, it is my belief that parties who continue to invest in building strategic long-term capabilities and stay the course in their management of IP will emerge stronger from this downturn. In today’s climate of constrained budgets and economic uncertainty, it is even more critical for involved deliberation on IP matters. It may not be wise to protect every piece of IP generated. Companies must think hard to ensure that only critical assets are protected and exploited optimally. This is often easier said than done, but the point is to give IP some thought and make considered plans that will prepare the business to ride the wave of economic recovery, when it arrives.
In this context, I am heartened to see the strong interest in today’s forum. Amongst you are people from diverse industries and parts of the world: IP professionals, service providers, policy planners and captains of industry. I am confident that this symposium will be a fertile ground for insights into the strategic value of IP for all stakeholders. I wish you an enjoyable and productive Symposium.
Last updated on 26 Nov 2012