Singapore is trumpeting its latest MoU signed with the National Office of Intellectual Property of Vietnam (NOIP). The somewhat vague deal promises collaboration, promotion, assistance to businesses, administration and capacity building, technology transfer, commercialization and IP valuation. Lofty aims but it is unclear how this will help patent owners. Vietnam’s patent system is largely fine. However too few patents are filed there and local innovation is almost nonexistent.  

The deal is probably more important to Singapore which is setting itself up to be a regional hub for IP in ASEAN. This is useful for many businesses that need a regional hub and Singapore is well positioned to be that. To be truly effective Singapore needs to be able to provide regional resources to businesses, which is its stated goal. 

Meanwhile all the ASEAN IP Office heads are in Vietnam this week to review progress of the ASEAN Economic Community’s IPR Action Plan 2011-2015. Various initiatives to harmonize ASEAN’s IP systems in time for 2015 are under way. Despite the optimism at this meeting and stated 'progress' it is not at all clear how this will help IP owners in the region. The Madrid system is still not implemented in some countries, notably Indonesia and the precise details of what harmonization will look like remain vague. At present it seems limited to IP office practice only.

The main regional success seems to be the ASEAN Patent Examination Co-operation (ASPEC) program which reduces the cost and time to obtain patents in ASEAN countries. So far all patents which received ASPEC requests received first office actions within 6 months – very fast for the region. This is possible as examiners can use other office's reports for corresponding patent applications.