Filing a Patent in Singapore: Requirements and Procedure

Last updated on November 6, 2020

man filing a patent application

Why Obtain a Patent in Singapore?

A patent is a legal right over an invention that allows its owner to prevent others from using, selling or even keeping the invention without the patent owner’s permission. This is due to the monopoly right granted by the patent.

A patent is therefore extremely powerful. Even if another party later independently arrived at a similar invention with no knowledge of the patent holder’s invention, he would still not be able to commercialise the invention without the patent owner’s consent.

Business owners, especially, should consider patenting their new inventions as doing so protects the inventions from being reproduced. It also allows the business to profit from them by charging others a fee to use them.

This article explains the process of filing a patent and key business considerations in doing so. It will discuss:

To Patent or to Keep Secret?

Before obtaining a patent, it is important for businesses to first consider whether patenting their invention, or keeping it confidential as a trade secret, is the better approach to protecting it.

While a patent grants a monopoly right for up to 20 years, it also discloses all details of the invention to the public – meaning that after 20 years, third-parties can use or sell the invention.

On the other hand, if you can protect your invention through confidentiality and secrecy, this protection could potentially last indefinitely. Generally, protection through secrecy is more difficult to ensure for product inventions as these may be reverse-engineered.

Keeping process inventions secret may be easier since competitors would have more difficulty discovering the process themselves.

However, if you are uncertain as to whether your invention can be successfully kept a secret, it is likely better to obtain a patent as you would receive 20 years of legal protection.

Whether an Invention is Patentable

Before a patent can be filed for an invention, the invention has to meet the legal requirements for being patented. These legal requirements are that the invention must be novel, involve an inventive step, and be capable of industrial application.

If any of these three requirements are not met, the invention will not be patentable.

How the priority date affects the patentability of an invention

Whether an invention is novel, and hence whether it can be patented, is based on whether there had been any previous publicly available description or use of the invention before the priority date of the patent application. 

This priority date is the date the patent application was filed in Singapore or the date of filing of a prior international patent application, whichever is earlier.

If an earlier international patent application was made and the applicant wishes to use that earlier priority date, he must indicate this when he files the Singapore patent. That earlier priority date would then be treated as the priority date of the Singapore patent, instead of the date of filing of the Singapore patent. 

Getting the earliest possible priority date can be critical in a successful patent application.

For example, if your business filed an international patent application in January, but a competitor independently develops and sells a similar invention in Singapore in June, you will still be able to patent the invention in Singapore since the priority date (being the international filing date in January) comes before the competitor launched their product in June.

Patent Application Procedure

Submitting the patent application in Singapore

First, the applicant must submit a patent application to the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) via the IP2SG platform. The application must include:

  • A description of the invention including any reference drawings;
  • A list of claims which outline the scope of protection of the patent. This includes what the invention does, and what others are prohibited from doing when the patent is granted;
  • An abstract which is a summary of the invention;
  • The identity of the applicant;
  • An address to which IPOS may send correspondence regarding the patent.

When the application is filed, the applicant will need to pay a filing fee of $160 via IP2SG, and the applicant can immediately begin using the term “Patent Pending” when marketing or selling the invention.

Publishing of patent

The patent application will also be publicly published in the Patents Journals 18 months from the priority date, which makes the invention and all of its details publicly available. 

Once the patent has been published, the applicant has the right to sue third-parties for infringement of the patent being applied for even though the patent has not yet been granted. If this were not the case, competitors would be able to copy and sell the invention, after it has been publicly published but before the patent is granted, with no consequence.

Additionally, it should be noted that if the patent is withdrawn after publication, the applicant will not be able to patent the invention. This is because it is no longer novel, having been publicly disclosed.

Preliminary examination of patent

After being filed, the patent application will undergo a preliminary examination by the Registrar of Patents to determine if the application is complete and whether there is a relevant patent for a similar invention from before the priority date.

If the application is incomplete such as having missing drawings or descriptions, the Registrar will notify the applicant who then has 2 months to amend the application. The Registrar will notify the applicant when the application passes this preliminary examination.

Search and examination

Following a successful preliminary examination, the application undergoes a thorough search and examination process.

The search process involves a patent examiner appointed by the Registrar gathering all relevant information on the invention from before the priority date, and producing a search report.
Such relevant information includes:

  • Prior inventions which may render the applicant’s invention not novel
  • The theory and state of technology of the relevant industry to determine if there is an inventive step.

On the other hand, the examination process involves the patent examiner determining, based on the search report, whether the applicant’s invention satisfies the legal requirements for being patented, namely being novel, having an inventive step, and being capable of industrial application.

The search reports and examination reports may be produced separately, or as a combined report, depending on which process the applicant opts for. There are 4 processes available:

  1. The applicant may first request for a search to be done and a copy of the resulting search report is sent to the applicant. After receiving the search report, the applicant must proceed to file a request for the examination to be carried out. Under this process, the search report and examination reports are separately issued. The total fees for this approach are $3,000, being $1,650 for the search report and $1,350 for the examination report, with an extra $40 for each claim exceeding 20 claims.
  2. The applicant may request for a search and examination to be conducted simultaneously. Following this, a single combined search and examination report will be produced and sent to the applicant. The total fee for this approach is $1,650 with an extra $40 for each claim exceeding 20 claims.
  3. If the applicant has previously obtained a search report from an international patent application, he may submit that search report and the examiner can immediately proceed to carry out the examination. The examiner will send the examination report to the applicant once it is ready. As only the examination report needs to be issued, the amount charged by IPOS will be $1,350 with an extra $40 for each claim exceeding 20 claims.
  4. If the applicant has previously obtained either a combined search and examination report or separate search and examination reports for an international patent application, he may submit these and the examiner will conduct only a supplementary examination to ensure that the invention meets the requirements for being patented in Singapore. The supplementary examination report is free.

The examination report or supplementary examination report will indicate whether the invention meets the legal requirements for patentability. If it does not, the examiner will state so in a written opinion sent to the applicant. The applicant then has 5 months (3 months for a supplementary examination report) to respond to the written opinion and/or amend the patent application. 

Alternatively, the applicant has 2 months to request for a review of the examiner’s written opinion.

If the examination report (or supplementary examination report) indicates that the application meets the legal requirements for patentability, the applicant will be formally informed by the Registrar that he is eligible for the grant of the patent.

Grant of patent

Finally, the applicant has 2 months to submit an application for the actual grant of the patent, after which the patent is granted.

If the applicant fails to file the required documents within the stated period at any point in the application process, the patent application will be treated as abandoned. The patent application may also be withdrawn by the applicant at any time.

If the application is withdrawn or abandoned before it has been published in the Patents Journals, or if the patent had been wrongly published, the applicant may re-file the application. 

However, if the application had been withdrawn or abandoned after being rightfully published, the invention would no longer be considered novel as it has been publicly disclosed. A new patent application for the same invention would therefore fail.

The total time taken to obtain a patent in Singapore is generally between 2 to 4 years from the date of filing, depending on the complexity of the invention and how many amendments need to be made by the applicant pursuant to the preliminary examination and search and examination processes.

That said, IPOS has certain programmes to help applicants obtain patents in Singapore within as little as 6 or 12 months. For more information, refer to this IPOS webpage.

How Long Does a Patent Registration Last For, and Can It be Renewed?

When a patent is granted, it takes effect immediately and lasts for 20 years beginning from the date the patent application was filed, subject to the payment of annual renewal fees. For example, if the application was filed on 1 June 2000, and was granted on 1 June 2002, it will last until 1 June 2020.

The first 4 years have no renewal fee. After which, the renewal fee increases the longer the patent is held. The 5th to 7th years have a fee of $140 per year, and this annual fee increases every 3 years until it reaches $970 for the 20th year of renewal. As with the patent application procedure, the renewal forms and fees can be submitted online via IP2SG.

The patent will expire if the annual renewal fee is not paid within 6 months of it being due. There are additional charges for late payments of renewal fees, so it is recommended that the renewal be made in a timely manner.

It is often a commercial decision whether to renew the patent. For example, if the invention has become obsolete in less than 20 years, it may be commercially viable to opt to not renew the patent.

Filing a Patent Overseas

Patents are territorial in nature, meaning that the monopoly right they confer is valid only in the jurisdiction the patent was filed in. 

This means that while third-parties in foreign jurisdictions would not be able to patent your invention in their jurisdiction (as your invention has been disclosed and is no longer novel), they will still be able to copy and sell your invention if you do not patent it in that jurisdiction.

As a result, even if you have been granted a patent in Singapore, you should also apply for a patent in every jurisdiction you intend to market or sell your invention.

In addition, if you are resident in Singapore, under section 34 of the Patents Act you must patent your invention in Singapore before patenting it overseas, or obtain permission from the Registrar to patent it overseas without first doing so in Singapore. Otherwise, you will be guilty of an offence punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or a jail term of up to 2 years, or both. 

International patent applications

A patent owner may opt to file patents separately in each jurisdiction, or make an international application under the Patent Co-operation Treaty which Singapore is a signatory to.

The Patent Co-operation Treaty allows you to make an international patent application within 12 months of the filing date of the Singapore patent application and be granted your patent in up to 153 jurisdictions including the USA, China, and the UK. This international application may be made via IPOS or directly to the World Intellectual Property Organization.

There is an international filing fee as well as fees charged by the national offices in each jurisdiction you apply for patent protection in. Therefore, the more countries you seek to obtain a patent in, the more costly it will be.

The international phase of the international patent application takes around 18 months, during which an international search report and written opinion are produced. After that the application enters the national phase in each of the jurisdictions applied for.

For example, in Singapore, an international patent application will undergo the patent application procedure described above which may take an additional 2-4 years.

A benefit of making an international patent application, as opposed to filing individual patent applications in multiple jurisdictions, is the international search report and written opinion produced. This may greatly ease the search and examination phase of the patent application in the various jurisdictions the patent is being filed in, so that a patent may be obtained in each such jurisdiction quicker.

Should You File a Patent in Singapore Yourself or Engage a Lawyer to do so on Your Behalf?

While it is possible to file a patent in Singapore yourself, the strict checks for novelty and an inventive step require highly specific phrasing to make clear what the invention does, explained in a way that highlights how the invention satisfies the 3 requirements for registering a patent. This is especially so as truly novel inventions are becoming increasingly rare.

Instead of trying to come up with such specific phrasing themselves, businesses should consider engaging a patent lawyer who is familiar with the language and procedure of patent applications, as well as with the legal effects of filing a patent, as this will improve the chances of success at each stage of the patent application. 

Hiring a patents lawyer to manage the necessary documentation and possible amendments throughout the application process will also allow the business to better focus on its core activities, rather than spending time on the patent application procedure.

Finally, a patents lawyer can help the business decide which search and examination procedure is most applicable and handle possible international patent applications as well.

You can get in touch with experienced patents lawyers in Singapore here.