Can You Patent an Idea in Singapore?

Last updated on February 20, 2023

boy thinking of an idea

As a business owner, you may have thought of many ideas to promote your business, or ideas for products to sell under your business name. If you have, you may have also wondered if you can protect these ideas under the laws in Singapore. The answer to this is no, ideas alone cannot be protected under intellectual property laws. They have to be reduced to writing. Once reduced, these will be known as your business creations and works. 

How, therefore, can you protect your business creations and works under intellectual property laws in Singapore? How do you prevent your rivals, or even just malicious squatters, from stealing or copying your creations and works?

In this article, we will discuss how intellectual property laws can protect your creations, the considerations you should be aware of before discussions, especially with third parties like suppliers, contractors or even employees, and some practical tips. It will cover:

For a complete guide to protecting your business’s intellectual property, please refer to our business owner’s guide to intellectual property

What are Patents?

Your ideas may come in the form of an invention. An invention can be a product or a process. You might be familiar with some famous patented products, for example, Apple’s patent for the original iPhone

Intellectual property laws grant patents as exclusive rights for an invention. This means that the patent owner owns the right to prevent or stop others from commercially exploiting, whether to make, use, distribute, import or sell, the invention.

To obtain a valid patent, the invention:

  • Must be new;
  • Must involve an inventive step; and
  • Must be capable of industrial application.

A patent registration is valid for a maximum of 20 years from the filing date, subject to yearly renewals from the 5th year onwards. You can refer to our article on requirements for patent registration for more information on the patent registration process. 

How Can I Check If My Idea or Invention is New?

How do you check if your invention is new, or if it might potentially infringe the patented rights of others? In practice, pre-filing clearance searches are strongly recommended. These searches are typically conducted on existing patent databases.

A useful guide is the “reverse infringement test”. According to this test, if you follow the instructions or descriptions under a prior invention and you are able to obtain a product which would infringe your own invention, then your invention would fail the “new” requirement. 

Experienced intellectual property practitioners would be able to assist with these searches, and also analyse the results of these searches. 

How Can I Protect My Ideas or Inventions and Information About Them? 

How do you ensure then that your invention is new, i.e. the novelty requirement? Bear in mind that the novelty requirement applies internationally which means your invention or ideas or information about your invention cannot be known in any way, anywhere in the world. It is therefore important to ensure that everything is kept absolutely secret until a patent application has been filed. 

You can protect your ideas and information by:

  • Including confidentiality provisions and executing confidentiality agreements with third parties; and
  • Restricting the personnel who have access to these ideas and information.

Proper agreements with any third party which may be producing or developing the product or has access to such information can include a Non-Disclosure Agreement or confidentiality clauses in a contract, or a contractual transfer of intellectual property rights in favour of your business. This is especially important if you are engaging a third party to devise the invention because the patent for any invention is usually granted to the actual deviser.

Within the company itself, you should have executed Non-Disclosure Agreements with key personnel, and have a Confidential Information policy with easy access for all employees to understand and follow. The policy can be straightforward – explaining what constitutes confidential information, and making it clear that such information cannot be shared on any platform.

You can refer to our article on protecting confidential information and trade secrets for more information. 

Do also include confidentiality provisions in your employment agreements. An example of such a provision can be found below:

You shall not (except in the proper course of your duties) either during the continuance of your employment with us or thereafter, divulge to any person whomsoever any confidential information concerning the business or management or clients of the Company or any of its dealings, transactions or affairs which may come to your knowledge or attention during or in the course of your employment, and you shall use your best endeavours to prevent the unauthorised publication or disclosure thereof.

The contents of the Employee Handbook, the Company’s prevailing policies on IT, Finance, Admin and Human Resource (and any amendments thereof from time to time) shall form an integral part of the terms and conditions of your employment, and are hereby incorporated… [Detail where these information can be found, i.e. on the Intranet]

You can also consider other forms of intellectual property protection:

Trade marks 

If you have created names, logos or slogans to use as your business names, or to use in your advertisements to promote your business, consider applying for these as trade marks. Again, it is important to ensure that these are capable of registration and do not infringe the rights of others.

A sign has to be distinctive to enjoy registration. Invented words usually enjoy the highest degree of distinctiveness, for example, TikTok, Twitter and Instagram. The sign cannot be a term commonly used in the industry, e.g. LOVE for jewellery, and cannot describe any characteristics of the goods or services, e.g. ROYAL which can simply be seen as a word describing superior quality. If you really wish to obtain registration for such signs, you would have to first use the sign for a considerable amount of time (usually 5 years at least), and have properly gathered evidence showing use of the sign as a trade mark. Public surveys with respondents recognising the sign as a trade mark are usually useful in this regard.

The sign also cannot be identical or similar to any earlier trade marks for the same or similar goods or services. As with patents, pre-filing clearance searches on available online trade mark databases are recommended. As Singapore recognises unregistered trade signs, these trade signs, if used or promoted earlier, would also block the use or registration of your identical or similar sign. To avoid this risk of infringement, intellectual property practitioners would usually recommend conducting private investigations to check the state of the market. These usually involve engaging private investigators to conduct market research or even consumer surveys.

Domain names

With the rise of social media, domain names and username handles are also important intellectual property to consider. Remember to register your SG domain names, and close variations of them, with the Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC).

You can also consider setting up an internal team within your business to assist with the monitoring of potential infringing activities, and then file complaints with the various social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, to have these infringing usernames removed. Do remember that the onus is on the owner to enforce the rights.

To ensure comprehensive intellectual property protection for your business, both registration and enforcement are important. Ensuring confidentiality is also important to preserve the novelty of your invention. The same goes for your potential trade signs; if confidentiality is compromised, a third party might seek to register an identical or similar sign first.

To devise a complete and comprehensive intellectual property strategy for your business, we recommend engaging an experienced intellectual property practitioner for detailed advice, and to better assess how best your interests can be protected.