How Singapore Is Fast-Tracking FinTech Patent Applications (and making more “Crazy Rich Asians”?)

By Constance Leong

19 September 2018, updated 6 March 2019, Singapore. A leading banker in this *Kat’s national backyard observed last week that conventional banks that ignore FinTech do so at their long-term peril.

 Ahead of the curve is Singapore, a world center for banking. *Kat friend Constance Leong describes how Singapore is implementing fast track protection of FinTech patent applications. 

The box-office smash hit, “Crazy Rich Asians”, is on everyone’s lips (and social media feeds) nowadays. The Singapore-set Hollywood movie, featuring an all-Asian cast, comically peers into the lives of the one-percenters strutting their stuff in famously up-market Singapore. Love it or hate it, the movie nails one thing for sure: Singapore is a playground for the financially savvy; a haven for financial technology (commonly known as “FinTech”).

In this spirit, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (“IPOS”) has launched a fast-track patent scheme determined to accelerate innovation for finance sector inventions. This scheme, dubbed the FinTech Fast Track (“FTFT”) initiative, began in April 2018, and extended for another year, will end on 25 April 2020. Essentially, FTFT provides for expedited prosecution of FinTech patent applications – a much welcomed initiative for the sector.

Through Singapore and its Chairmanship of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2018, FinTech inventors enjoy access to a US$2.6 trillion-marketplace via the ASEAN Economic Community, comprising 622 million people. Singapore, currently housing more than 400 FinTech firms and with high-level support services and infrastructure, has the potential to become a FinTech Capital of the region, or even worldwide. FTFT may aid Singapore in realizing that goal.

Interestingly, a preliminary search revealed a good number of FinTech inventions in countries providing protection for utility models (UM), here, sometimes also known as “petty patents”. This may not be surprising, due to the rapid pace of innovation in the field of finance. The application process for UM is usually fast, simple, and competitively priced, since a UM application is typically either examined only for novelty or not substantively examined at all.

Despite not having protection similar to that provided by UM, Singapore’s FTFT more than makes up for it by offering three key benefits: (i) a short application-to-grant process of less than six months (compared with the typical two to three years); (ii) a full substantive examination; and (iii) a 20-year protection period (the length of protection is always shorter for UM). Noteworthy too is that FTFT is available without additional charge or form-filling, or any additional approval-waiting processes.

This mode of fast-tracking patent applications, which focuses exclusively on specific technologies, is not new. Leading the pack is the United Kingdom (UK) followed by Australia, Korea, Japan, America, Israel, Canada, Brazil and China. UK piloted the fast-tracking of “green” patent applications to propel the progress of climate-change inventions and deepen research for long-term solutions. This is apt as environmental issues deserve broad attention.

More specifically, South Korea and China‘s Zhongguancun Intellectual Property Promotion Bureau enable patent application priority for technologies critical to the respective country’s development, namely, E-commerce for South Korea and energy conservation, new energy vehicles, and big data (just to name a few) for China.

The fast-track idea behind the FTFT may be similar to these other Patent Offices, but it is no cookie-cutter. No other country, except Singapore, seems to focus on FinTech. But is fast-tracking patent processing achieving the intended results of accelerating innovation? Is it susceptible to abuse? Why does FinTech deserve priority in Singapore?

As for the general question, a 2013 Working Paper by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment found that while participation was low, the priority given did speed processes up. As such, the initiative did succeed in accelerating development of clean technologies during the first years after the publication of the patents. As for Singapore, this blogger spoke with several FinTech patent examiners, who noted that to prevent abuse, priority for genuine Fintech patents is protected by trained examiners, who detect patent applications unrelated to FinTech but that are (mis)applied for under FTFT.

Experienced FinTech entrepreneurs know all too well the extreme brief commercial life cycle of FinTech inventions. They also know that the FinTech market is booming in the modern economy. It is recently reported that global investment in FinTech companies hit US$8.7bn in Q4 2017, with the final figure for 2017 at about US$31bn across various deals.

Thanks to FTFT, the window for achieving the goal of commercialising FinTech inventions in the shortest possible time has arrived in Singapore. It does not hurt that the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore was ranked first in the Patents Category by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in its latest 2018 U.S. Chamber International IP Index (6th Edition).

With your FinTech in Singapore, you may be next to strike it rich…like the Crazy Rich Asians.

* This article was originally published in IPKat on 16 September 2018, a blog that covers copyright, patent, trade mark, info-tech, privacy and confidentiality issues from a mainly UK and European perspective. Todate, IPKat enjoys viewership of more than 29 million.