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Intellectual Property Rights
The Singapore government attaches great importance to the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), a high standard of IPR protection being necessary to protect and encourage the growth of high-value-added, high-content industries. To protect these vital industries, the government has put in place a comprehensive regime as listed below for IPR protection.

Legal and policy – compliance with the TRIPS Agreement
Singapore has achieved full compliance with the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of International Property Rights (TRIPS). TRIPS is, to date, the most comprehensive multilateral agreement on trade and intellectual property. It sets out a high standard of compliance for the protection, enforcement and dispute settlement of trade-related IPR matters for WTO members to adhere to.
In implementing the legal initiatives necessary to be TRIPS-compliant, Singapore has strengthened its IP legal framework and made it more attractive for foreign investors to invest in Singapore’s developing knowledge-based economy.

Singapore’s membership of IPR Conventions
Singapore has been a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization since December 1990. Singapore has also acceded to several international IP treaties including the Berne Convention, the Budapest Treaty on the International Recognition of the Deposit of Microorganisms for the Purpose of Patent Procedure and the Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks (Madrid Protocol). In addition, Singapore is a party to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).

Sustained enforcement actions are constantly undertaken by various authorities, including the Singapore Police Force, Films and Publications Department and Customs and Excise Department (now the ICA). Backing the enforcement actions is the continued imposition of stiff penalties for copyright and trade mark offences by the Singapore courts. Persons guilty of trade mark and copyright offences may be given jail terms of up to five years and/or fines of up to S$100,000.

Substantial statutory damages may be awarded by courts for trademark and copyright infringements in civil actions. Under the Trade Marks Act (Cap 332), for example, infringements involving counterfeit trademarks may attract statutory damages in excess of S$1 million.

International recognition
The Political & Economic Risk Consultancy, the International Institute for Management Development and the World Economic Forum (WEF) have consistently ranked Singapore top in Asia for IP protection.

Cooperative approach with industry
While Singapore’s efforts to protect IPR have been successful, the government is constantly reviewing its protection programmes to ensure that not only are existing measures relevant, effective and adequate but that they also adapt to technological advances or changing circumstances through consultations with industry.

IPR-related legislation
Singapore has completed its review and amendment to its IPR-related legislation to comply with the obligations under the TRIPS Agreement.

The Copyright Act (Cap 63) governs copyright and related rights in Singapore. The duration of copyright protection varies according to the type of work concerned:
Literary, dramatic, musical, artistic works
  • If the work is only published after the death of the author, it lasts for 70 years from the end of the year in which the work was first published - 70 years from the end of the year the author died.
  • Published editions of literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works (layout) – 25 years from the end of the year the edition was first published.
  • Sound recordings and films - 70 years from the end of the year the sound recording or film was first published
  • Broadcasts and cable programs - 50 years from the end of the year the broadcast was first made or cable programme was first included in a cable programme service
  • Performances - 70 years from the end of the year of the performance
  • Copyright material sent over the Internet or stored in webservers is treated in the same manner as copyright material in other media. The civil remedies for copyright infringement include injunctions, damages and account of profits. In addition, there is criminal liability attached to distribution of infringing materials, as well as willful infringement of copyright.

Trade marks
The registration and protection of trade marks in Singapore is governed by the Trade Marks Act, which was revised in 2007. Singapore is a contracting country under the Madrid Protocol and may be designated as a target jurisdiction under an international trade mark application. The registration of a trade mark is for an indefinite period so long as the renewal fees are paid every tenth year. Singapore adopts the International Classification of Goods and Services under the Nice Agreement. Some of the salient features of the Trade Marks Act include:
  • a more streamlined test of registrability which is that of capacity to distinguish
  • simplifying and expediting the examination process
  • the protection of “shape” and “color” marks
  • the protection of “well-known marks”.

In general, protection of trade marks under the Trade Marks Act is conditional on the registration of the trade mark with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS). There is one exception – marks which qualify as “well-known marks” are protected under the Trade Marks Act despite not being registered in Singapore.

In 2009, the Singapore Court of Appeal, Singapore’s highest court, released its first decision concerning “well-known marks” in the case of Novelty Pte Ltd v Amanresorts Ltd & Anor (Civil Appeal No. 56 of 2007/Z) [2009] SGCA 13. In this landmark case, the Singapore Court of Appeal discussed the definition of a “well-known mark” under Singapore’s laws and the application of section 55 of the Trade Marks Act, which grants protection to “well-known marks” which have not been registered in Singapore.

The law governing patent protection in Singapore is the Patents Act (Cap 221). Patent protection lasts 20 years from the date of filing the application. Singapore is a party to the PCT and may be designated as a country under an international patent application. Software and business methods patents are recognized in Singapore.

Plant varieties
Under the Plant Varieties Protection Act 2004 (Cap 232A), which conforms with the 1991 revision to the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, breeders may file for new plant variety protection. The term of protection is 25 years from the date of grant.

The Registered Designs Act (Cap 266) came into force on 13 November 2000. The Registered Designs Act repealed the United Kingdom Designs (Protection) Act (Cap 339), which previously conferred protection in Singapore on designs registered in the UK. The Registry of Designs was established with applications for registration of designs being lodged in Singapore instead of the UK.

Geographical indications
Singapore has the Geographical Indications Act (Cap 117B), to protect geographical indications. The Geographical Indications Act seeks to prevent the use of misleading geographical indications, the registration of misleading geographical indications as trademarks and the use of geographical indications that would constitute an act of unfair competition. Protection afforded to geographical indications is automatic. Where geographical indications qualify as a trade mark, certification mark or collective mark, it is also possible to register geographical indications under Singapore’s trade mark legislation.

Layout designs of integrated circuits
The original layout design of integrated circuits is protected under the Layout Designs of Integrated Circuits Act (Cap 159A). Protection is automatic and the duration of protection is either ten years after the first commercial exploitation (if the exploitation takes place within five years after the year it is created) or 15 years after the year it is created.

Franchising in Singapore
In 2009, there were over 500 franchising systems and 3,000 franchisees in Singapore. However, Singapore does not have a specific franchise law, regulation or code of practice. Distribution and franchise agreements are governed by general contract and common law principles applying to commercial contracts in Singapore. There is no requirement to register a franchise or distribution agreement, or any related disclosure document, in Singapore. The Franchising and Licensing Association of Singapore (FLA) was established to nurture and develop Singapore’s franchising industry. Membership of the FLA is discretionary and all members must comply with the FLA’s code of ethics.

Competition laws
According to the Global Competitiveness Report 2009–2010 by the WEF, Singapore is ranked the third most competitive economy in the world. In 2004, Singapore enacted the Competition Act (Cap 50B). Modelled largely on the UK Competition Act 1998, Singapore’s Competition Act is administered and enforced by the Competition Commission of Singapore and prohibits three main types of anticompetitive behavior, namely:
  • anti-competitive agreements, decisions and practices
  • abuses of market power
  • mergers and acquisitions that have the effect of substantially lessening competition. A voluntary merger notification system applies under the Competition Act.