Singapore’s “FinTech Fast Track” initiative is doing swimmingly well, thank you

By Constance Leong

26 April 2019, Singapore. *Kat friend Constance Leong has kindly provided an update on the state of Singapore’s FinTech Fast Track initiative. 

The first year of Singapore’s fast track patent scheme, known as the FinTech Fast Track (“FTFT”), has progressed so well it would seem, that the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (“IPOS”) is extending it another year, until 25 April 2020.

An example of how FTFT has sought to deliver on its promise to accelerate innovation is a digital technology company based in the Philippines, being granted the first accelerated patent under the scheme. After the filing of the application for fast-tracking in May 2018, together with a request for a Search and Examination Report, the applicant received the Search Report and a Written Opinion just one month later–in June 2018. Within another three months, by September 2018, a full substantive examination had been completed and found the patent application to be eligible for grant.

For whatever reason, the applicant allowed nearly two months to pass before paying the grant fee to continue the process.As a result, the grant was issued slightly beyond the six-month period targeted by the scheme. In any event, without fast tracking, a full patent prosecution would typically take at least between  two to four years.

The early certainty of patent protection, the ease of synchronising the patent right with product development, and the opportunity to leverage work-sharing arrangements under either the Global Patent Prosecution Highway (“GPPH”)  or the ASEAN Patent Examination Cooperation (“ASPEC”) are clearly key advantages here. Given these results, it is conceivable that IPOS might consider including other fields of technologies as part of the program.

Zooming out into the region,  we see just to what extent Asia is a hot spot for FinTech. At a FinTech and Arbitration Serminar, held in Singapore on 28 February 2019, hosted by the Singapore FinTech Association and jointly organised by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (“WIPO”) Arbitration and Mediation Center and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (Singapore), IPOS Patent Examiner Dr Huang Jinquan shared statistics showing that China, Korea and Japan accounted for about 40% of the FinTech filings in the world. Forbes also reported similar trends regarding Asia’s FinTech dominance. According to Dr Huang, Singapore has risen to also be among the top 15 FinTech patent filing countries in the World.

Still, Singapore recognises that innovation (especially in a potentially disruptive technology such as FinTech) without guidelines could be a veritable Sword of Damocles over everyone’s head. So, in order to balance encouraging rapid development in FinTech with the need to protect the public, Singapore broadened the scope of regulated activities with a new Payment Services Act 2019 (“PSA”) to now include account issuance, e-money issuance, merchant acquisition, domestic and cross-border money transfer, digital payment token, and money-changing. No doubt the PSA is  seeking to maintain financial stability, efficiency and competition when facing the next frontier of FinTech. Passed on 14 January 2019, PSA is expected to come into force in the latter half of 2019.  

While the inaugural FTFT experience for IPOS has been a steep learning curve, its new-found success may boost its confidence in fast-tracking other emerging technologies. IPOS’s April recruitment drive for more patent examiners in the field of information and communications technology (ICT), computer science and engineering is a telling sign that it has an appetite for greater volume without compromising on high patent examination standards. Despite this, other competing technologies are burgeoning and may grow to surpass FinTech in importance in the foreseeable future. Hence, it remains to be seen if FTFT will be prolonged much further, beyond its current extension.

[Note, however, that while the work of FTFT  is  far from finished, it is finite. As such, interested inventors need to file before 25 April 2020 to get an accelerated patent within 6 months.]

*This article was first published in IPKat on 23 April 2019, 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 34 million.