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OPENING ADDRESS BY MS SUN XUELING, MINISTER OF STATE FOR HOME AFFAIRS, SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT FOR WORLD IP DAY 2023

Type: Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Sun Xueling

Topic(s): Women Empowerment


Ms Thitapha Wattanapruttipaisan, Director, World Intellectual Property Organisation, Singapore Office, who is joining us online today
Dr Stanley Lai, Chairman, IPOS,
Mrs Rena Lee, Chief Executive, IPOS,
Distinguished Guests, 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

1. A very good morning to everyone. Today is World IP Day. World IP day is celebrated annually on 26 April by 193 member states of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to highlight the important role intellectual property (IP) rights play in promoting innovation and creativity.

2. This year’s theme is a very interesting and timely one, “Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity”, that commemorates women inventors, creators and entrepreneurs – many of whom are here today and are making significant contributions in their respective fields through their imagination, ingenuity and hard work. As mentioned, the theme is a very timely one, as women in Singapore and all over the world are pioneering new frontiers and creating breakthroughs on multiple fronts, including many of us here today. Earlier, I was outside and there was a little desk, with all the products on it. At one glance, you can see how all these products and services cater to a woman and her family and equip her so that she can participate meaningfully to achieve her potential – while bringing innovation and creativity to the environment and society around her. 

Contributions of Women in Innovation

3. Now, we all know that innovation is a challenging journey that begins with the conceptualisation of an idea and continues through the development of a product or service, often through a series of trials and errors. Oftentimes it’s not a linear path. Sometimes you will see down a certain tangent. Sometimes, you will find your way back to what it is that you were aiming for. Sometimes, it will bring you down a different road. But there’s a surprise behind every bend, and it requires substantial effort. Beyond effort, it requires grit, determination and a strong belief in yourself and in the idea that first started you on this journey of innovation. That is just the conceptualisation and putting through the product and the service. Subsequently, you have to meet with investors to talk about funding for growth, wanting to make revenue, P&L and thinking of how to build the business. 

4. In this entire journey, IP plays a vital role, allowing creators to maintain their creativity, maintain their competitive edge while focusing on business development and research. A comprehensive IP strategy not only protects a company’s interests, but also enables the commercialisation of their ideas and encourages further innovation.

5. While Singapore may be small, it is a place that all Singaporeans have equal opportunities to flourish and achieve their aspirations. We will continue to work hard on this to make sure that Singapore continues to be a place for these opportunities. I am proud that our nation is not short of women innovators and entrepreneurs. It is with great pleasure that we have with us today several exceptional women who have made significant contributions in their respective fields with their ingenuity and creativity. 

6. First and foremost, I would like to mention Dr Sandya Sriram, Co-founder of Shiok Meats, a local start-up making waves with their cultivated cell-based crustaceans. We also have Ms Lee Yun Qin, Senior Industrial Designer at Procter & Gamble’s Beautycare Innovation Studio where she develops ingenious beauty care products. Yun Qin is also a lady with multiple talents as she is an artist, who has had her beautiful light art installations exhibited at iLight Marina Bay, as well as overseas, in Poland and the US. We look forward to hearing about how IP has added value to their work during the upcoming panel discussion.

7. Today, IPOS has also prepared an exhibition showcasing the remarkable designs and inventions of women in Singapore. I was particularly intrigued by Ms Chong Boon Sim’s story. Her invention, a multi-button gaming mouse with a 12-button thumb grid was initially met with scepticism, but ultimately disrupted the market and became a best seller. She has certainly made her mark in the world of gaming, a world that most of us usually associate with men. 

Women’s Development in Singapore  

8. As a young nation, women in Singapore have made significant progress over the past two generations. I think men and women in this room can feel this when we look at the women around us, like our mothers, our aspirations for our daughters, our grandmothers and great grandmothers, migrants in our society. When we think about the enactment of the Women’s Charter in the 1960s, that was an environment that was perhaps so far away, just to institutionalise monogamy marriages that seem taken for granted nowadays. But that was something that we needed to put in law in the 1960s. Since then, Singapore women have made tremendous progress in terms of education, literacy, and participation in the workplace among others. I am really very heartened as we look at the latest UN Human Development Report, Singapore ranked 7th worldwide and is the top Asian country for gender equality. When I look at this particular indicator, it fills me with a lot of pride and gratitude for the generations before us who have invested in this and who have walked this journey, both men and women, to enable us to reach this objective. 

9. At the same time, we recognise that more can be done to address challenges faced by women and empower them to achieve their aspirations. It has been a year since the release of the ‘White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development’ which was debated in parliament and it reflects our shared vision towards a fairer and more inclusive society. The White Paper sets out 25 action plans by the Singapore Government and community. I am delighted to share that we have achieved or are on track to achieve a good quarter of those action plans. It has only been a year since we released the White Paper, so we are making very good progress. 

10. We are grateful that we are working with community partners and stakeholders who share the common vision of having a Singapore where there is an equal partnership between men and women. You would have read and seen in the media on our sharing and discussions about our progress on equal opportunities in the workplace. We have shared plans to introduce workplace fairness legislation and make flexible work arrangements a workplace norm. While we have now gone into post-pandemic times, I think what we have learned through the pandemic is that it is possible to achieve a better work-life balance if we were able to use flexible workplace arrangements. That requires the effort of both employers and employees. Trust is required for both sides, and the government will try to be helpful by putting in place processes so that there is a transparent way to assess flexible workplace arrangements.  

11. We are also working to shift mindsets on gender stereotypes, including in women’s choice of careers, to encourage more women to participate in STEM industries. We talked about various products and services earlier. Whether it is tech machines or a gaming device or Shiok Meats, I think understanding of STEM education careers is important. In particular, we see how digitalisation, creative science, and research data is being increasingly useful for all processes which involve our lives. We want to make sure that women are involved in this process, involved in STEM education and careers. 

a. With the data we have in 2021, close to 4 in 10 students enrolled in STEM disciplines at Institutes of Higher Learning were female. Almost half of our university graduates were women ; But it is not good enough, we also have to look at what happens to these women post-graduation. Do they continue to stay in STEM careers, or what causes them to drop out of their careers? If they dropped out, can they come back? What can we do to help them?

b. As one of the top tech hubs in the world, over 4 in 10 of Singapore’s tech professionals are women, surpassing the global average.  Again, we cannot rest and we need to continue to make sure that we empower women to be able to pursue their full potential and their aspirations in the STEM workforce. We have to look at what bottlenecks there may be, what obstacles there are, and how we can further help. 

12. These positive developments highlight the importance of continuing our outreach efforts to encourage and support young women in venturing into STEM-related careers.

Women’s participation in IP system

12. Talking about women’s participation in the IP system, Rena, who is an expert in this area will be sharing, and I look forward to hearing from her later. More women are entering innovative industries, not enough women are participating in the IP system and seeking protection for their rights. Globally, WIPO reports that only 1 in 3 Patent Co-operation Treaty applications named at least one female inventor, and women only accounted for 16.5% of all inventors. 

13. Locally, IPOS has conducted studies to investigate if women are utilising the IP system. We are pleased to note that there has been a steady growth in women’s participation in patenting and trade marking activities in Singapore.

a. IPOS has found that the number of female inventors in Singapore has increased over the years.  In 1999, 20% of all patents granted in Singapore named at least one female inventor. This number grew to almost 35% in 2021.  Very noteworthy, from 20% to 35%, from 1999 to 2021. 

b. Equally as important to innovation is branding. IPOS has found that the percentage of female entrepreneurs applying for trade marks increased from 17.7% in 2016 to 23.4% in 2022.  

14. But as we can see, there remains a disparity between men and women seeking IP protection in Singapore, and more needs to be done to empower women to use the IP system to protect and add value to their work. Therefore, as we further our efforts to support women in innovation and to encourage use of the IP system, we also continue to invest in our IP ecosystem through the implementation of the Singapore IP Strategy 2030.

Importance of Maintaining a Robust IP Ecosystem for All

15. I think we all recognise and feel that Singapore has a strong IP regime and is consistently ranked as one of the best in the world.
 
a. In the latest Global Innovation Index released by WIPO, Singapore was ranked the 7th most innovative nation in the world.

c. In 2021, IPOS also received a record number of IP filings in Singapore, with an 11% increase across patents, trade marks and designs from 2020. 

16. These achievements highlight Singapore’s position as a modern services hub with a conducive environment for local and global innovative companies. 

17. This year, IPOS focuses on building up the ecosystem for valuation of intangible assets in Singapore. Proper valuation of intangible assets and intellectual property would empower enterprises to rely on their intangibles to raise capital or to grow their market values. 

18. IPOS and the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) recently concluded their public consultation on the proposed Intangibles Disclosure Framework. This framework sets out key principles for disclosure, to improve transparency and to assist enterprises in intangible asset commercialisation and financing. IPOS and ACRA have received positive feedback and are working to refine the framework, which is expected to be launched this year.

19. Finally, we are committed to ensuring that our IP system is comprehensible and accessible for everyone to ensure and secure protection for their IP rights easily.

a. IPOS GO, the world’s first mobile app for trade mark registration was refreshed last year. Users can now perform an expanded range of services through the app such as filing designs and IP renewal applications. The refreshed app also incorporates a Brand Search feature for users to conduct quick checks on similar or existing brand names to aid in their branding journey. I can only imagine how convenient and important this is.  

b. IPOS continues to run its IP clinics, providing complementary consultations on IP strategies and other IP-related business concerns, as well as preliminary advice on IP infringement, opposition, invalidation or revocation matters, to ensure that IP rights are safeguarded. 

Closing

20. To conclude, IP plays an important role in transforming ideas into assets, and for this year’s theme, we strive to empower more women to participate in the IP system. I hope today’s activities would inspire and encourage everyone to consider the crucial role that IP can play in facilitating your journey on innovation and creativity.

21. Before I end, I would like to take the opportunity to thank WIPO’s Singapore Office (WSO) for being supportive partners and working closely with IPOS to bolster IP developments in Singapore and in the region. WSO and IPOS have collaborated on an exciting video featuring ASEAN women innovators, which will be screened shortly. 

22. And lastly, I would like to give a shout-out to our participants who are joining us online today. Thank you for taking the time to celebrate with us. Let us celebrate the progress we have made so far for our women and continue to do more to help them fulfil their aspirations. Thank you.