A patent applicant must provide a complete description in their patent specification of how his or her invention is put into practice. During the patent application process, the patent specification is made available to the public by being published. In most countries, publication of a patent application usually takes place 18 months from the earliest date that an application was first filed for the invention. Singapore has a similar provision.

Publication is a necessary part of the patent system. Patent holders are granted a monopoly for their invention (usually 20 years from the filing date of a complete application) in exchange for providing a complete disclosure of how their invention is put into practice. When the patent expires, the invention disclosed in the patent specification is free for anyone to use. Accordingly, the patent system rewards inventors for disclosing their inventions in the public domain and encourages innovation through the exchange of ideas. The purpose of publication is to facilitate the exchange of ideas.

It is interesting to note that unlike most jurisdictions, a Singapore patent application is not published unless some form of search and/or examination results are available by the 18th month date. Hence, there is no fixed timetable for publication to take place in Singapore and publication may be delayed until such results are at hand. Accordingly, publication of a Singapore patent application is dependent on the efficiency by which the search and examination authorities are able to establish search and/or examination results.

Delays in publication may not be useful or advantageous to either patent applicants or to those who wish to exploit new technology.

Firstly, the effect of publication is to provide patent applicants with the same rights as he or she would have if a patent for the invention had been granted on the day when the specification was published (although a patent applicant may not bring an action for infringement until the time that the patent application proceeds to grant). Accordingly, the period of assessment for determining an award of damages due to infringement of a patentee’s patent by a competitor begins from the time of publication. A delay in the publication of a patent application may therefore reduce any award of damages.

Secondly, potential competitors may be dissuaded from competing in the same technology space of an invention if they know that it is the subject of pending patent rights. However, any strategic advantage that may be enjoyed by a patent applicant in having their patent application published may be lost due to a delay in publication.

Thirdly, as the publication date of Singapore patent applications is unpredictable, monitoring of pending patent rights by exploiters of new technologies is made onerous.

To avoid any of the disadvantages that may arise due to a delay in publication, Singapore patent applicants should request search or examination of their patent applications as soon as possible.

The content of this article does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on in that way. Specific advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.