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Clear IP strategy increasingly important for start-ups: Industry players

Knowing when to file a patent and how to protect intellectual property are some areas local start-ups need to focus on, industry players say.

SINGAPORE: The start-up scene here is looking healthy and more companies are looking to commercialise their inventions in the region and globally. But start-up owners need to balance having a clear intellectual property (IP) strategy to safeguard their businesses with managing their limited capital, said industry players.

According to the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, 9,722 patents were filed here in 2013 - a 20 per cent growth in the last 10 years.

Local start-up TouchJet, for one, had filed a patent for its handheld projector TouchPico, which turns most surfaces into a touch screen. On its decision, Mr Slava Solonitsyn, Chief Marketing Officer at TouchJet, said patents are important as a deterrent to others for pirating the company's idea, but also as a basis to attract investment from venture capitalists (VCs).

"Patents are especially important at the start when raising investment from high-profile venture capital funds. These firms would look at a start-up's patent portfolio to see how it is protected and how good the patents are," he said.

The TouchPico used to project an image from a smartphone to the wall. (Photo: TouchJet)

The Singapore start-up's TouchPico device was incubated by Ruvento Ventures, and received a S$100,000 grant under the National Research Foundation's Interactive Digital Media Strategic Research Programme (IDM SRP). It will be showcasing the product at the IFA 2014 tech trade show in Germany, which starts on Friday (Sep 5).

Mr Solonitsyn added that if start-ups plan ahead and manage their finances by breaking down the costs of patent applications, they can work around capital constraints.

"The good thing is for the first and second year, you may just spend like S$10,000 or S$20,000 for a patent application," he explained. "Only from the third year, when the product starts going international, then you start spending on patents for multiple markets. That is when you need to have a lot of money."

That said, having the right strategy to leverage IP is increasingly important, especially since filing for patents can costly and time-consuming. That is why Vertex Venture Holdings, a VC, advises up-and-coming firms to have a clear business plan.

Mr Chua Kee Lock, Group President and CEO at Vertex, said start-ups need to have a clear direction and know what they want to achieve. "Certain times, it may be important to file patents. Sometimes, it's more important to keep it as a trade secret.

"Nevertheless, it's always important to have certain patent protection for what you are trying to create somewhere along the line. This will give you potential leverage in the future, when somebody else tries to replicate what you are trying to do," Mr Chua added.