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Commentary: Intellectual property can power innovation and build Singapore’s future economy

SUSS School of Business' Eric Gan explains why intellectual property is a strategic lever to promote and protect innovation, and may create good, high-paying jobs.

Commentary: Intellectual property can power innovation and build Singapore’s future economy

Aerial view of the one-north district. (Photo: Ministry of National Development)

SINGAPORE: In an age of disruptive change, where technology breakthroughs are rapidly displacing old products, many say innovation is key to levelling the playing field globally and supporting our future economy.

For one, businesses need to seize opportunities to harness creativity to introduce new ideas, products and services that add value to the global marketplace, to remain competitive in this evolving landscape.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY GIVES RIGHTS TO INNOVATION TO THE CREATORS

Innovation can be thought of as an idea that adds value to a business and its customer, and the outcome of a process in which something new has been brought to market. In one sense, research and development is nothing without enterprise and commercialisation, and the term innovation captures this idea.

And if innovation is a key driver of economic growth, intellectual property (IP) is then a strategic lever to promote and protect innovation. IP is a broad term that refers to the rights to original ideas developed by a person that brings value and gives rise to new products and services. These could include tangible items such as the final product itself, or its design or logo. Items could also include less tangible concepts that are valuable and marketable, for instance, the recipe to Coca-Cola.

IP gives the creator of these items legal ownership and protection and can take various forms including patents which usually come with a limited duration, trade marks which gives the item a concrete commercial identity, or copyrights which bestows the item with creative ownership which is especially relevant for artistic works like song lyrics and movie scripts that can be massive money generators.

In short, IP incentivises the innovation process by allowing creators to capture a higher share of return on their research investment because they have the rights to their invention, while becoming a key determining factor of an idea’s long-term worth.

Because IP are intangible assets, an IP regime that protects the ownership and rights to these ideas is fundamental for innovative businesses to thrive. IP dictates how ideas can be commercially exploited– they can be owned, sold, licensed, assigned or even gifted like any physical property.

All businesses possess some form of such intangible assets, whether they are aware of it or not. This is especially significant as a business is building itself up, where the ability to identify, protect, manage and exploit its IP can mean the difference between success and failure.

At a launch of the Chinese representative office of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore in May 2017, IPOS said that it wants to promote Singapore's IP products and services to "Chinese companies that have set their sights on the dynamic ASEAN region". (Photo: IPOS) Acting Minister for Education and Senior Minister of State for Defence Ong Ye Kung (second from left) launching the China representative office of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore. (Photo: IPOS)

STRONG PRIVATE-PUBLIC NEXUS IN BOOSTING IP

Singapore has taken bold steps towards building a vibrant knowledge-based and innovation ecosystem that drives a future economy. Many recognise this - Singapore has been ranked 6th in the world and 1st in the Asia-Pacific by the Global Innovation Index 2016, and ranked 2nd in the world by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2016 - 2017.

Obviously, none of this happened by chance. Government initiatives to help businesses better extract their ideas and inventions and translate them into commercial outcomes while utilising the full potential of their IP have been underway for some time and given a boost. Under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan (RIE2020), a $19 billion fund has been set aside for the next five years to spur value creation and innovation.

More recently, the establishment of a new $1 billion Makara Innovation Fund to help businesses leverage their IP for growth and international expansion seems to point to an equally strong desire in the business community to leverage innovation.

This move, which trails closely recommendations to build local capacity and strengthen IP commercialisation by the Committee for the Future Economy (CFE), bodes well for Singapore’s plans for a future economy.

This tight coupling between the private and public sector suggests a strong consensus on the way ahead.

IP MANPOWER AND EXPERTISE WILL BE KEY

But what of the means to achieve this? For a system is only as good as its people are. So it is heartening to read that a newly updated IP hub masterplan also has plans to double the number of skilled IP experts to 1,000 over the next five years.

Indeed, manpower capabilities have been recognised as a crucial enabler to support the key strategic outcomes of Singapore’s IP hub vision to generate benefits for innovators, businesses and the IP services sector, and create high value job opportunities.

To create a dynamic IP ecosystem for the future economy, more players and services are needed to service the IP needs of today’s technology-rich yet asset-light businesses. A new generation of IP experts is needed to support this growth.

To ramp up innovation among businesses, the Committee on the Future Economy recommended strengthening Singapore's intellectual property (IP) ecosystem and providing more support for local entrepreneurs. (Photo: CNA)

For now, IP expertise is in short supply in Singapore as well as many other countries. The development of IP expertise requires multi-disciplinary skills-sets that straddle the interface of business, technology, and law. Needed skill-sets include IP management skills in various phases of the innovation life-cycle, including creation, protection, and exploitation. IP professionals are expected to be responsive to opportunities to translate innovation and IP into business or commercial outcomes.

There is great potential for good jobs in this IP market. A study conducted on industries in Singapore with an above-average usage of IP shows such sectors can contribute substantially to the economy and employ about 42.5 per cent of the workforce, with jobs in these industries paying a premium income of 29 per cent more than those in other industries. 

A PROMISING FUTURE ECONOMY

The future economy, which will be driven by innovation, is promising. Singapore is well-positioned to provide a unique value proposition as an IP gateway to Asia and beyond.

With its IP expertise and professionals to aid businesses, I am confident that businesses will be equipped to transform their ideas into valuable and commercial outcomes, which will in turn create high-value employment opportunities for our people.

Eric Gan Kok Wah is head of the Intellectual Property and Innovation Management Programme in the School of Business at Singapore University of Social Sciences.

Source: CNA/sl

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