A Quick Guide to Singapore Intellectual Property Law

A Quick Guide to Singapore Intellectual Property Law

Intellectual property rights (IP) are critical to supporting an innovation-driven economy and industrial and trade growth in Singapore. As a result, the country was ranked third on the International Property Rights Index 2020, which measures a country’s property rights regime’s strength, including intellectual and physical property rights.

In addition, Singapore was also ranked second globally for having the best IP protection in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2019. The high rankings resulted from the government’s concerted effort to promote the development and registration of intellectual property in the country and provide a robust legal framework for protecting registered rights.

This article provides a general overview of the intellectual property law that every business owner in Singapore should know. However, note that this guide is for general information only. Hence, you should seek specific legal advice before acting on the content set out therein.

What is Intellectual Property (IP)?

Intellectual property (IP) refers to non-physical wealth created through human creativity or intelligence whose exclusive rights are recognized by the government. It includes creative works, inventions, and business goodwill but does not include physical things created through physical effort.

In Singapore, IP may be an inventive process that is protected under its patent law. For example, IP can be the content of a book consisting of a story and characters. However, the book materials, such as ink and paper, cannot be considered IP.

IP can also be the product of an artist or musician in the form of musical compositions, performances, or works of art. Such creations are protected by copyright in Singapore. 

How Singapore protects intellectual property rights

The Singapore government encourages the development and registration of intellectual property rights through large financial incentives and a favorable tax regime. For example, Market Readiness Assistance (MRA) offered by International Enterprise Singapore aims to help Singapore-based companies cover some of the costs (including IP costs) when expanding overseas. 

The MRA program provides funding of up to 70% of fees for eligible activities (limited to S$20,000 per company per new market from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2023), including foreign IP application submissions.

For your information, the MRA incentive is in addition to the low overall corporate tax rate of 17 percent. Furthermore, Singapore also provides comprehensive tax treaties with other countries for income generated through IP. Such tax treaties offer tax credits for income from countries like the United States that do not have a tax treaty with Singapore.

Apart from encouraging the development and registration of IP, the Singapore government also aggressively protects it. IP rights are territorial, meaning that if the IP is registered in the country, its rights will be protected there. Moreover, the government always has IP rights protection in mind when creating the legal system of courts, alternative dispute resolution, and laws.

IP laws in Singapore

In essence, the IP law provides for the legal status of the IP as property by defining key aspects such as:

  • The IP owner;
  • Whether the IP needs to be registered;
  • The scope of IP protection; and
  • How IP owners can enforce their rights against violators.

With the IP law, you can prevent people from copying your inventions, creative work, or business identity. For example, with the IP law, you can prevent someone from copying the entire content of your novel and selling it to publishers. 

In Singapore, each type of IP is protected differently. The following is an overview of how patents, copyrights, trademarks, confidential information, and industrial designs are protected in the country.

Patent Law

According to the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS), a patent is a right granted to the owner of an invention that prevents others from making, using, importing, or selling it without their permission. In Singapore, patents can be valid for 20 years if the owner pays an annual renewal fee. Once registered, the owner can use, sell or license the patent.

Licensing a patent or any type of IP can be advantageous. Generally, the owner will be the inventor, but that may not be the case if they develop it during their tenure in a business.

The criteria used in Singapore in granting a patent is that the design or the process must be:

  • New: Should not be publicly known anywhere in the world.
  • Inventive: Even if it’s new, it should be an improvement that won’t be obvious to someone with technical skills or knowledge in that area.
  • Industrial application: Must have practical application.

You can register your patents by choosing one of the following ways:

  • Domestic applications: You can apply for a patent in Singapore to the Registry of Patents, which is part of the IPOS, in person or online.
  • International applications: If you wish to apply for a patent in multiple countries, you can do so under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) by using Singapore’s Registry of Patents as the beneficiary office.

Copyright Law

In Singapore, original works such as novels, computer programs, films, paintings, sheet music, and performances are protected under the Copyright Act. It enables the author or owner of copyrighted material to publish, perform, broadcast, or adapt the work. They can also transfer or license all or part of their rights to another person, as long as the agreement is made in writing. 

Unlike patents, there is no copyright registration process in Singapore. That is because copyright begins when the work is created. Therefore, you need to show that you made it first in a dispute over ownership of a work. For example, for documentation, you can send a copy of the work to yourself or a lawyer and keep it in a postmarked envelope. You can also use the familiar © symbol in your work to indicate the copyright. 

A person who infringes copyright in Singapore may be subject to criminal penalties. They can be punished for “major infringement” if they intentionally and significantly violate copyright for commercial purposes. The penalty can be a fine of up to S$20,000 and/or imprisonment of up to six months. In addition, if they are found guilty of a “secondary offense,” they can be fined up to S$10,000 per job and a total of S$100,000 and/or imprisonment for not more than five years.

Trademark Law

A trademark refers to a symbol, such as a brand name or logo that a business uses to distinguish its goods and services. To have your trademark protected by the Trade Marks Act in Singapore, you must first register it. Alternatively, you can seek protection without registering it under the common law of “passing off.

By registering your trademark, you can protect your company’s brand by preventing others with similar goods or services from using your trademark. Then, after your trademark gets approved, you can have it valid indefinitely as long as you register it every ten years. You can also license or sell it to others.

As with patents, you can register your trademark via IPOS online or in person. However, note that before registering, you need to know that your trademark has not been used by a similar business. Therefore, you need to conduct a proper search to determine the right trademark for your business. 

For complete information about trademark registration in Singapore, you may refer to:

A Guide to Registering a Trademark in Singapore

Industrial Design Law

The industrial design law is governed by the Registered Designs Act (Cap. 266) (RDA). To qualify for registration, your design must be new and applied to your non-physical products. You can have your design protected for an initial period of five years after the application. After five years, you can renew it up to a maximum of 15 years by paying an extension fee.

The following designs cannot be registered:

  • Designs which are dictated solely by the function which the article has to perform;
  • Designs which are dependent upon the appearance of another article, of which the designer intends to form an integral part;
  • Designs which enable the article to be connected to, or placed in, around or against, another article so that either article may perform its function;
  • Methods or principles of construction.
  • Computer programs or layout designs of integrated circuits.
  • Designs for articles that are of a primarily artistic character such as wall plaques, medals, book jackets, dress-making patterns; and
  • Designs the publication or use of which would be contrary to public order or morality.

Confidential Information/Trade Secret Law

The law on confidential information or trade secrets relates to preventing a person from divulging information given to them in secret and implying understanding that such information may not be disclosed to others.

The confidential information law provides a useful complement to other intellectual property rights. For example, while the copyright law only protects the expression of ideas, the confidential information law can protect the ideas themselves. In addition, it can be helpful for certain types of trade secrets for which other rights may not be appropriate, such as recipes or secret business plans.

To have your confidential information protected, it must:

  • have the requisite quality of belief about it;
  • been provided in circumstances that import the obligation of trust; and
  • there must be unauthorized use of information to the detriment of the party communicating it.

A related article:

An Introduction to Singapore Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA)

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with our useful guides on company incorporation, accounting & taxation and business management!

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with our useful guides on company incorporation, accounting & taxation and business management!

Need advice on the best structure
for your business

Biz Atom helps entrepreneurs and international business make the right choice when setting up in Singapore.


Contact us