The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (“IPOS”) launched an Accelerated Initiative for an Artificial Intelligence (“AI2) programme that became effective on 26 April 2019.  This AI2 programme speeds up the file-to-grant process for Artificial Intelligence (“AI”)-related patent applications to merely 6 months instead of the usual 2 to 3 years. According to IPOS, the AI2 programme makes Singapore’s patent granting for AI-related patent applications the fastest in the world.

In order to be eligible for the AI2 programme, an applicant has to meet the following pre-requisites:

(i)     The patent application is related to AI;

(ii)    The patent application was first filed in Singapore;

(iii)  The filing of Request for Grant of Patent (Patent Form 1) and Request for Search and Examination (Patent Form 11) are done on the same day;

(iv)  The patent application contains no more than 20 claims; and

(v)   A supporting document labelled as “Fast Track document” stating that the patent application is an AI invention is to be furnished during the submission of the Request for Search and Examination (Patent Form 11).

It is essential to understand the meaning of AI before one seeks to join the AI2 programme, as it being one of the first criteria that an applicant has to satisfy. Briefly, “AI refers to the ability of a computer or a system to interpret external data, to learn from it, and to use the said learning to achieve specific tasks”.

AI is also commonly associated with, but not limited to, machine learning, which is a form of AI that uses algorithms and statistical models that enables computers to make decisions without the need to be explicitly programmed to perform a particular task. Machine learning can be applied in various functional domains, including image recognition, speech/voice recognition, natural language processing, and autonomous systems.

To further assist the prosecution of the AI-related patent applications and also in view of the AI2 programme, IPOS has correspondingly included in the patent examination guidelines a section on patentable subject matter for artificial intelligence and machine learning methods.

Just as a brief overview of the revised guidelines, a claim to an AI method characterised only by the mathematical steps of the algorithm would be considered as a mathematical method per se, and thus cannot be construed as an invention. In fact, where a method is defined to be implemented on a generic computer or using conventional hardware, the mere recitation of the said generic hardware in the claim is not likely to be sufficient for the actual contribution of the claim to be considered anything more than the underlying mathematical method.

However, a claim to an AI method implemented on a computer and aimed towards solving a specific problem (e.g. a machine learning method implemented on a computer for speech or image recognition or natural language processing) would most likely be considered as an AI invention eligible for patent protection.

The push on AI technology is not just taking place at IPOS level. The AI2 programme runs parallel to the Singapore government’s requirement for ministries and agencies to have at least one AI project by year 2023 (Digital Government Blueprint, June 2018). Additionally, the country is also creating significant advances in new technological landscape as demonstrated by the strong investment in digital infrastructure, a surge in IT expertise, and the growing support for the nation’s affinity towards hyper-connectivity, among others. These undertakings show the seriousness of Singapore government to become one of the leading AI-driven countries in the world.

Apart from the government’s relentless drive, AI also has significant benefits towards the public in general. One of the advantages of AI is to ease the burden of a person from the routine mundane chores so that one can focus on more value-added tasks. Take for example the advancement of autonomous vehicles, a concept that we can relate; now enables a once driver-of-a-car to stop the routine task of driving and to focus on more value-added work such as routing and planning the journey. Another example is a phone assistant that helps on some routine completion of a task in a significantly shorter period of time.

AI is the next big thing in Singapore. It is here to grow. As stated by Mr Daren Tang, CEO of IPOS, “AI has become one of the biggest drivers of technological and societal change in the world, and it will increasingly underpin the country’s drive to build a digital economy”.

A version of this article was first published in the membership journal of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys – see more at http://www.cipa.org.uk/