Intellectual Property (IP) may not be sexy to some, but rest assured, there is plenty of exciting tech innovation pushing the sector ahead.

TechNews had a kopi chat with GovTechie Darren Chan about his day job as the Director of the IT Department at Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) , the IP²SG e-services portal his team developed, and the patented team culture that is keeping innovation flying high.

(IP²SG is actually the acronym for Integrated Platform for Intellectual Property in Singapore, an e-services portal for IP applicants.)

Q: What, in your own words, is important about IPOS’ mission?

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GovTechie Darren Chan is the Director of the IT Department at the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS).

It is no longer enough for IP offices today to see themselves as a collection of Registries or as an IP regulator.

That's why IPOS has increasingly focused on helping individuals and businesses to commercialize their IP so that they can take their brands, content and technology to the global market.

This is especially relevant in these exciting times of strong start-up development and activities in Singapore, including the impact of the Smart Nation Programme.

IPOS has introduced many initiatives and schemes, such as the IP Financing Scheme, to help companies use their intellectual property, including patents and now trademarks and copyright, as collaterals in securing loans for business growth and expansion.

The agency has also recently stationed two IP management consultants at SGInnovate to provide innovative start-ups with assistance on how to manage their IP and commercialise their technology.

In its role as the global IP partner for businesses and innovators here, IPOS will help them compete in today’s innovation economy.

Q: How does your team support IPOS?

Our role is similar to teams in other sites, that is, to be a trusted partner by leveraging on technology to transform the way the agency works and interacts with its customers.

In addition, the team also consults and manages the IT functions of IPOS’s three subsidiaries, IPOS-International, IP Academy and IP ValueLab.

Q: What can you share about IP²SG?

We officially commissioned IP²SG on 21 September 2015. 

It allows our customers to conduct Patents, Trademarks, Designs and Hearing & Mediation transactions in a convenient one-stop online platform.

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The IT team at IPOS may be a small one, but that hasn't stopped the members from developing innovative projects such as IP²SG.

Our customers now benefit from reduction of red tape by removal of 30% of forms as well as faster turnaround with auto checking of some formalities criteria and instant approval whenever possible.

IP²SG provides a 100% digital experience as it is a paperless system incorporating e-correspondence and electronic alerts to agents or applicants for key deadlines.

With patent filings growing 4.9 percent in 2015 with 10,814 applications, and a corresponding increase in TM applications by 9% to 44,203, the system is a timely boost to Singapore’s IP infrastructure to cater to the growing demand for IP services in the region.

Customer feedback to IP²SG has been positive, and we will continue to provide new services and features to the product.

For example, in June 2016, IPOS has partnered with the Singapore Network Information Centre Pte Ltd (SGNIC) by linking our systems to facilitate domain names availability check and reservation of a free .sg domain name on IP²SG after filing an application in IP²SG without leaving the system.

We are also transforming IP²SG by developing a suite of APIs for the product.

This is scheduled to be completed by June 2017 and with this in place, IPOS will be able to put in place exciting new features such as mobile apps, enhanced image search and trademark examination processes with deep learning capabilities.

Q: What are some challenges faced by the team?

The team is constrained by its small size and though we sometimes have wild ideas for new projects, we often have to prioritize our resources.

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One of the many brainstorming sessions held by the IPOS IT team.

While IPOS has been very supportive and understanding of our needs to prioritize, we wish we could have handled more projects concurrently.

We’re working on doing better and achieving even more, with the resources on hand.

This is a very young team and nearly all of us were hired from the private sector with IPOS as our first site, so we have no idea how to behave as government employees!

Thus a typical day is filled with a lot of noise and laughter. We often have to remind ourselves to keep the noise level down!

Q: How do you overcome or work around these challenges?

A recent reorganisation was a big help, as we’re now able to tap on expertise that were previously not available to us.

For example, we had consulted Solution Architects from the Ministry of Law and Ministry of Health for our ongoing projects.

This has freed up Sharon, our Business Analyst, to delve deeper into understanding the business domain and proactively recommend solutions and changes to workflows.

(Editor: Sharon is the lady in yellow in the teaser image.)

She is now a Core Team member in the ongoing Business Process Reengineering (BPR) for IPOS.

We have also leveraged on external resources whenever possible, such as getting onboard the Public Service Division (PSD) and GovTech's Digital Services Accelerator programme, in which the Government Digital Services (GDS) team will help us to design the user experience and interface for our upcoming upgrade to IP²SG.

Q: What’s the one trademark of your team to remember?

We are more like a startup.

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The flipside of team dynamics: The team that plays together, stays together.

Because there is no one to pass the buck to, and that every member of the team has a part to play in every single project, the fear of letting the team down made us bond very quickly and today we are more of a family than just colleagues.

So the team culture is more like a typical startup than a government organisation.

There is very little hierarchy and everyone is comfortable with speaking their own mind.

Most days the team continues chatting and gossiping on whatsapp way beyond office hours.

We also make the effort to celebrate each other’s personal milestones such as birthdays, baby showers, etc.

Except for weddings. We’re still waiting for one teammate to get married so that we have the opportunity to celebrate that as well!

Q: What is it like to work with IPOS colleagues?

We’re lucky to have gained the trust of IPOS, and today the agency is a very supportive partner of GovTech and our initiatives.

The relationship was further strengthened with IPOS engaging GovTech’s Consulting Services to handle the ongoing BPR for its Registries Group.  

Many of the IPOS colleagues have become our friends and we sometimes involve them in our team’s activities. Their influence has obviously rubbed off on us as the team has gained a finer appreciation of the complexities of IP. 

And yes, we always buy original goods!

 

 

All photos courtesy of the IPOS IT Department.