The Ministry of Law submitted a Patents (Amendment) Bill to Parliament on 6 February 2017. The proposed amendments were previously published for public consultation at the end of last year. If the Bill is passed, the proposed changes would take effect on 1. January 2020.
The main change proposed by the Bill is the elimination of the “foreign route” for examination of a Singapore patent application. Currently, there are three available examination routes: (1) the local route, where both the search and examination are performed by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS); (2) the mixed route, where IPOS performs the examination but relies on the search of the PCT or an approved foreign patent office; and (3) the foreign route, where the search and examination of an approved foreign patent office is relied upon to grant the Singapore patent application, after only a “supplementary examination” is performed. The supplementary examination assesses mainly formality issues and does not require a separate determination of novelty and inventiveness. Approved foreign patent offices include those in Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Europe.
Currently, the foreign route accounts for about 60% of patent applications filed in Singapore. There is also currently no IPOS official fee for supplementary examination, compared to the fees of SGD 2,600 and SGD 1,350 for the local route and mixed route, respectively. Therefore, an elimination of the foreign route would be a substantial change. The elimination of the foreign route was delayed until 2020 at least partially because of the widespread objection heard from both patent professionals and patent applicants.
In 2013, the Singapore Ministry of Law proposed the “IP Hub Master Plan” for developing Singapore into a global IP hub in Asia. The elimination of the foreign route is seen as being a necessary step to achieving this goal of being an IP hub, as the elimination of the foreign route would help to achieve greater consistency and improve the overall patent examination process.
The second change proposed by the Bill is a broadening of the existing grace period provisions. Currently, a grace period is available in only limited situations, such as when an inventor presents at certain approved exhibitions or before a “learned society.” The proposed amendment would all any public disclosure originating from the inventor to be disregarded if it occurs within twelve months of the patent application filing date. The proposed change bears some similarity to the grace period currently in force in the U.S.