The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) has announced an initiative under which the examination of patent applications relating to FinTech can be accelerated. The initiative was launched on 26 April 2018 and will be effective for 12 months. IPOS has stated that an applicant can expect a qualifying application to be granted in a little as 6 months. The launch of the initiative demonstrates a desire in Singapore to strengthen innovation in the FinTech sector.

In order to qualify for the FinTech Fast Track Initiative, an application for a patent must meet the following criteria:

  1. The application is related to FinTech;The application has to be first filed in Singapore;
  2. A request for search and examination must be filed on the same day as the application is filed:
  3. The application must contain 20 or fewer claims;
  4. If an adverse formalities report is issued, the applicant must respond within two weeks;
  5. The applicant must respond to any examination written opinion within two months; and
  6. A supporting document indicating that the application is related to FinTech must be filed with the request for search and examination.

To expand on criterion (1), IPOS has published an illustrative list of technology areas which are considered to relate to Fintech. The list includes: Electronic Payment; Investment Platforms; Insurance Technology; Blockchain and Banking; and Security, fraud and authentication. Patent applications relating to inventions not included in the list may also be eligible for the FinTech Fast Track Initiative if they fall into classifications of the international patent classification (IPC) considered to relate to FinTech (G06Q 20/00 and G06Q 40/00).

It should be noted that not all developments relating to finance and business can be the subject of a patent in Singapore. Although there is no clear indication in the Singapore Patents Act, according to the Singapore Guidelines for Examination of Patent Applications, business methods per se are not considered to be inventions and thus not eligible to be granted a patent. However, if a business method is implemented by a computer system and if there is sufficient interaction between steps of the method and physical hardware of the computer system such as a server or network to address a specific problem, then the business method may be eligible for patent protection. The method must also satisfy the general requirements for patentability including novelty and inventive step.

There is no additional fee payable for applications to be accelerated under the initiative. However, the applicant must respond within the time periods mentioned above under criteria (5) and (6) to any objections raised against the application. In order for a patent application to be granted earlier than 18 months after the filing date for a first filed application early publication must be requested.

The initiative will be of interest to applicants who are keen to obtain grant of a patent in Singapore in a relatively short time, especially since FinTech innovations tend to be fast-moving. The initiative is not limited to applicants based in Singapore and it is open to overseas applicants. However, the requirement of criterion (2) that an application is first filed in Singapore means that applications claiming priority to an earlier application or national phase applications based on an international patent co-operation treaty (PCT) application are not eligible for the initiative.

Singapore is part of the ASPEC (ASEAN Patent Examination Co-operation) agreement and has Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) agreements with most major patent offices. Under these agreements, the grant of a Singapore patent may be used to accelerate examination in other jurisdictions. Thus, a Singapore patent granted under the FinTech Fast Track Initiative may form the basis of a request for accelerated examination under ASPEC and PPH to expedite grant of corresponding patent applications outside Singapore.