The Singapore patent system has been to date a relatively liberal patent system, in that applicants can choose to place reliance on the allowance or grant of a corresponding patent application in lieu of local substantive search and examination. Along the same lines, applicants may also choose to place reliance on the International Preliminary Report on Patentability (IPRP), thereby circumventing the need to request local substantive search and examination. The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) has coined this reliance approach the “Foreign Route”.

Changes are forthcoming. IPOS has announced that the “Foreign Route” will soon be closed. The exact date for the closure has not yet been set, but it will occur no earlier than 1 January 2017. IPOS’ motivation for the abolishment of the “Foreign Route” is to strengthen the Singapore patent regime, by ensuring all Singapore granted patents fully meet the patentability requirements, thereby enhancing the quality of Singapore granted patents.

Transitional provisions will be provided in that Singapore applications having a date of filing prior to 1 January 2017 will still be able to use the “Foreign Route”. This caters to Singapore PCT national phase applications which are filed after 1 January 2017, but its base PCT application has an international date of filing before 1 January 2017. IPOS will however, impose a fee for using the “Foreign Route” after 1 January 2017 to the tune of S$400, which may be increased annually until all Singapore PCT national phase applications which are eligible for the “Foreign Route” are phased out.

The transitional provisions do not extend to divisional patent applications. Any divisional patent application filed after 1 January 2017 will not be eligible for the “Foreign Route”.

IPOS has confirmed that there will be no change to the current structure of the local substantive search and examination as well as the “Mixed Route” (i.e. local substantive examination based on a foreign search report). However, IPOS is currently reviewing their search fees and examination fees and the fees may possibly be lowered. The direction of IPOS is clear. Quality of Singapore patents is the focus moving forward and this is a deliberate attempt to steer applicants towards either local substantive search and examination or the “Mixed Route”.

The closure of the foreign route has not yet been enacted into legislation. Through the months and closer to its implementation, we will see proposed legislative changes to the Singapore Patents Act and Rules in support of the changes. We will keep you informed of the exact details of the changes as they surface in the coming months.