Hi Stephanie, what do you do and what brought you to Singapore?

I am the Regional Intellectual Property Counsellor for Southeast Asia and the Representative of INPI, the French Intellectual Property Office. I am part of the team of the Regional Economic Department at the Embassy of France in Singapore.

I am responsible for
– coordinating the INPI cooperation activities in the ASEAN region in regard to IP protection and enforcement,
– providing support to French companies seeking advices on IP local matters (information, institutional support, litigation)
– providing information to foreign companies on IP in France/ Europe when they decide to invest in France, without supplanting the IP attorneys or lawyers.

For French SMEs and startups, I am here specially to help them to have a better understanding of IP and explain them the good practices. I will also create a connection with my colleagues in France. INPI develops several services to support them, including financial support.
INPI is not only an essential player for the registration of industrial property rights in France: patents, trademarks, designs, reception and processing of registration of geographical indications, but it is also a privileged interlocutor who supports the companies over the long term by proposing courses of action in order to facilitate the development of their Intellectual Property strategies according to the environments and needs, especially internationally. Thus INPI has an international network of 10 Regional IP Counsellors  covering around 100 countries.

What kind of recommendations could you give to French SMEs/ startups arriving in Singapore?

 If I could summarize the answer with one word: “ANTICIPATION”!!
Examples of first reflexes that the companies should have in mind, when they are interested in the ASEAN markets, could be:
– Analyze the freedom to operate. Before asking the question “how to protect for example my brand, my innovation and so one”, it is important to check that there are no IP rights that the company will infringe in the interested markets. Also, be careful to use useful databases for these markets and don’t forget to cross-check the results, to account for language nuances. Using English to do searches could be useless in some cases.
– Don’t forget to include the ASEAN countries in your brainstorming of IP rights registration strategies. Think about the national way or international way. For the international way, especially trademarks or patents, all ASEAN countries (outside Myanmar) are part of them. It is important to be up to date too. For instance, Malaysia recently joined the international trademark system.
– Be aware of the priority dates, especially for patents. Don’t be in a situation where you are no longer able to extend your protection in that country because you don’t meet the deadline
– Adapt yourself to the specificities of the local regulations
For example, in Singapore, it is a criminal offence to falsely represent a trademark as registered when it is not registered (bad use of ®) or the duration of a registered design is up to 15 years and not up to 25 years as in France.
– Use, if possible and useful, the IP initiatives launched in the region.
For example, in Singapore, your will find an initiative to accelerate the process to grant patents in all technology fields (in 6 months), and to request acceleration of the related trademark and registered design applications, having started from 1 September 2020 It is called SG IP Fast Track.
For the ASEAN countries except for Myanmar, the ASEAN Patent Examination Co-operation (ASPEC) programme allows to accelerate the process to grant patent. This ASPEC programme is the first regional patent work-sharing programme among nine participating ASEAN Member States (AMS), IP Offices of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The purpose of this programme is to share search and examination results between the participating offices to allow applicants in cooperating countries to obtain corresponding patents faster and more efficiently. It operates in English language in all participating AMS IP Offices and it is free-of-charge to the applicant at any cooperating AMS IP Office. However local search and examination fees at AMS IP Offices will still apply. In August 2019, they launched two pilot programmes: ASPEC Acceleration for Industry 4.0 Infrastructure and Manufacturing (ASPEC AIM) & Patent Cooperation Treaty-ASPEC (PCT-ASPEC)
– Manage your IP rights portfolio. For the trademarks, don’t forget that you have to use them. Otherwise you risk of losing them. Don’t forget to pay the annual fees of patents…Survey the markets and identify potential counterfeiting products in order to enforce your rights.
– Manage the confidentiality, IP issues in your contracts with your current/potential partners, employees… especially if there are R&D developments.

In summary, it is important to anticipate and work closely as soon as possible especially with an IP Attorneys / Lawyers to establish relevant IP strategies and actions.

General recommendations

The Intellectual Property (IP) rights are to be looked at as a toolbox from which the CEO / the founders can choose to protect the innovations of the company through their lifecycle. It is important to secure the intangible assets of their company. They are the result of a long journey and a lot of money invested.
You need to keep in mind that having an IP strategy is not just registering IP right. An IP strategy adapted to the company’s global strategy can prove to be a tremendous growth accelerator. Not having an IP strategy could be dramatic for some companies, especially the ones that innovate.

 Some examples why IP could represent a “growth accelerator” for start-ups:
– Help to raise funds
– Technological differentiation
– Building and promotion of the brand image
– Facilitation of international development
– Increasing of the negotiating power and of credibility of the company with partners
– Source of additional financial income…
(Source : “Guide du Management de la PI   pour les business managers”, INPI)

Based on the above, you can understand each company is unique and it will have its own IP strategy.

 Examples of IP rights (requirements have be met to obtain protection):
– Patent for a technical innovation
– Trademark for a rallying sign for customers
– Industrial Design for an aesthetic creation
– Copyright for works like novels, computer programs, plays, sheet music, paintings…
– Trade secrets for confidential information

To learn more, have a look at the following guides published by INPI and/or contact me or my colleagues:
– “Guide du Management de la PI pour les business managers”, https://www.inpi.fr/fr/le-management-de-la-pi
– “Livre Blanc, 24 fiches pratiques pour manager sa PI pour une propriété intellectuelle (PI) au service de votre compétitivité”, https://www.inpi.fr/fr/livre-blanc-du-management-de-la-pi

What do you answer to the SMEs that tell you: “Whether or not I have IP rights in the region, I will not be able to enforce them anyway”?

For sure, the IP enforcement could be a challenge in some countries. But you are still stronger with IP rights than with nothing. And the situation is evolving and it is necessary to differentiate the situation in each country. Don’t forget that lots of countries in the region develop policies to support their innovation ecosystems as a lever of growth and so the IP becomes the key issue.

Singapore is the most advanced country in the region and for IP as well. Enforcement of intellectual property rights is seen by Singapore as a major factor in the attractiveness of the country. Since the early 2000s, Singapore have stepped up actions to fight against the IPR violations: strengthening the legislative framework, pronouncing heavy civil and criminal sanctions, raising awareness by informing companies and the public. In April 2013, the Singapore Government announced a 10-year master plan to guide the country towards becoming a Global IP Hub in Asia, reviewed in April 2017. This strategic plan aims to make Singapore a centre of intellectual property in Asia and especially in Southeast Asia, at the same time centre of management and transaction of IP, centre of IP registration of quality and centre of settlement of IP disputes. The United States who edit every year a list of countries to watch out for because of trade barriers due to the IP ecosystems, have removed Singapore from the list since 2000. Thanks to the efforts of Singapore, the country is ranked as one of the best places year after year and it is ranked in 2019 second in the world and top in Asia for having the best IP protection in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2019.

The companies should not neglect the alternative disputes resolution either, to use Customs to block counterfeits at the borders when possible, the administrative actions to enforce their IP rights when possible.

For the alternative dispute resolution, for example, WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) Arbitration and Mediation Center offers services with its office based in Singapore (two offices in the world: one at the Headquarters in Geneva and the second one in Singapore). You will find answers to some questions and the costs at https://www.wipo.int/amc/en/center/faq/index.html
Regarding the alternative dispute resolution in Singapore and especially in front of IPOS, the companies could have a look at the Enhanced Mediation Promotion Scheme (EMPS) proposed by IPOS that was extended and enhanced for up to three years from 1st April 2019. Parties in a mediation case can receive funding of up to S$10,000 or up to S$12,000 if foreign IP rights are added to the subject-matter of mediation, regardless of the mediation outcome. To know more and see the requirements, look at https://www.ipos.gov.sg/docs/default-source/growing-your-business-with-ip/funding-assistance/emps.pdf and https://www.ipos.gov.sg/growing-your-business-with-ip/funding-assistance.
Although registering with Customs is not mandatory, it is advisable to add the IP rights of the company to their recording systems, when they exist, as it will help Customs recognize infringing versions of your products. The objective is to block the infringing products at the border in particular before their entry in the country. The Customs of Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia manage a recording systems of IP rights. The Singapore Customs don’t have a recording system. So you have to be proactive. If you have details about a suspected illegal shipment in advance, you can activate border enforcement by providing written notice to Customs of a suspected import of IPR-infringing goods. Some similar actions could be initiated with other countries in the region. Look at https://www.customs.gov.sg/businesses/border-enforcement-of-intellectual-property-rights/quick-guide-for-copyright-and-trade-mark-owners-and-licensees to know more how to work with the Singapore Customs.

If you noticed potential infringing products, it is important to discuss about the best strategy to be implemented with an IP Lawyer as soon as possible. He will know the situation of the identified countries and will be able to elaborate scenarios coherent with your resources (your current IP rights in the countries, your budget, your economic strategy…) and the specific case (physical or online counterfeiting …)

How is Tech integrated today in the IP domain?

Tech innovations are present in the field of Intellectual Property at several levels.
For example, the IP offices are working on new tools using Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain to improve their efficiency and to provide new services to the public. Today you can find free access and powerful databases using AI to do searches among trademarks with pictures. You probably noticed the recent mobile application launched by IPOS, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore last year. This application is using AI. You can find also chatbots using AI on different IP Offices website to help the visitors with their questions. In France you can use the chatbot, “NOA”, a public service accessible online to guide start-ups in their administrative procedures and IP is one of them thanks to INPI which is involved in the initiative. It works both in French and in English.
IP Offices are developing solutions to improve their efficiency in their processes too.
At INPI we produced a tool to assist in the weekly dispatching of patent applications amongst examination teams. Around 5 hours of work are saved every week. But other examples could be cited in France, Singapore, Australia and all around the world.

Moreover innovative solutions in Tech are developed by companies to improve the fight against counterfeiting. And French companies can be found in this area! For example, some innovations can be dedicated to secure the products themselves, allow to recognize quickly the genuine and the fake ones, other solutions monitor the web, the visible part and deeper layers… We have even a Woman in Tech and active member in the French Tech Singapore Cyber & Security Community representing one of them! Emilie Philippe with Webdrone (find her interview here)

 How “dare you” to be a woman in Tech?

The first impression of the people I met; they usually think that I am a legal person. So when I explained that I have a Tech engineering background, it’s reassuring. The IP law can often overwhelm by its complexity. Being an engineer, allows me to have less focus in the legal speech and more focus in their innovative and technical projects. My goal is to always explain with the most practical, pragmatic approach, trying to place myself in their side and give explanations adapted to each case. Additionally, as a woman, I think that I have an empathy and the needed patience which comes very handy.

What do you do to bring more diversity?

 First, I will say that I am into diversity.
I have been working for over 15 years in the Intellectual Property field and had the opportunity to occupy different and complementary functions: patent engineer in an IP firm, patent examiner and expert on software patentability at INPI, IP manager in an international French group. Then I provided support to entrepreneurs, start-ups, SMEs on topics related to IP in particular before arriving in Singapore as part of the team of INPI’s Economic Action Department in Brittany. And now, I am working with French, European and local Authorities of 10 countries, especially the IP Offices in the ASEAN, as IPOS here in Singapore, French and foreign companies, Partners linked to French companies within Business France, Bpifrance, French Chambers of Commerce, CCE, French Tech Community without forgetting the other services of the Embassies of France in the region, the IP Agents/Attorneys/Lawyers and other IP institutions such as WIPO, EUIPO, USPTO, UKIPO, JPO or the Associations of IP right holders such as UNIFAB, INTA for example. The playground is in itself very diverse.

With all these connections, and with the work in cooperation that I am doing with the Authorities in the region, I am learning about many cultures, many ways of working and a variety of IP playgrounds in the region. So I integrate these different cultures, specificities in my approach supporting French companies or the companies that want to invest in France, while making sure that my recommendations are oriented and relevant to them adapted to the playground.

Stephanie, thank you ! LinkedIn Stephanie Leparmentier
Get in touch with us @ womenfrenchtech at gmail dot com
In collaboration with Amel Rigneau & Silvia Leiva

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