Stories > Keeper Of Ideas

2022 • Issue 1

Keeper Of Ideas

Singaporean Daren Tang’s appointment to lead the World Intellectual Property Organization shines a spotlight on the Lion City’s stellar growth in the intellectual property arena.


Based in Geneva, Daren Tang is the first Singaporean to head a major UN outfit – the World Intellectual Property Organization.



n 2020, Daren Tang became the first Singaporean appointed to lead a United Nations (UN) agency.

Tang is the director-general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the international body responsible for shaping global rules for intellectual property (IP), and oversees trademarks, designs and patents.

He is the fifth director-general of WIPO and the first Asian to head the global institution.

Prior to his appointment, Tang, 48, was the chief executive of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS), a statutory board that helps innovators use IP to take their ideas to market.

During his term, Singapore rose through the ranks to become second-best globally and the top-performing country in Asia in terms of IP protection.

An alumnus of the National University of Singapore, Georgetown University Law Center and Harvard Business School, he held different legal positions within the Attorney- General’s Chambers and the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Singapore between 1997 and 2012.

In 2016, he received the Public Administration Medal from the Prime Minister’s Office in Singapore for outstanding efficiency and competence in the service of his country.

1. Why are developments in IP important in the global context, and how can they contribute to international cooperation among different nations?

We live in a world where innovative and creative activities – whether it is technology, brands, designs or content – are emerging from all parts and becoming truly globalised. Twenty years ago, four out of 10 IP applications filed worldwide originated from Asia. Now, it is close to seven out of 10.

WIPO’s recently released World IP Indicators report shows that in 2020, Iran was the world’s third-highest filer of trademarks, surpassing the EU, with India entering the top five for the first time. In the film industry, Nigeria’s Nollywood and India’s Bollywood have surpassed Hollywood in terms of the number of movies produced. And a South Korea production – Squid Game – recently became the most streamed series on Netflix. This diversity is good for all of us.

The complex and multifaceted problems that we face can only be solved by tapping the innovative and creative potential of people from every corner of the globe. This is why WIPO is working hard to ensure that more countries, especially developing and least-developed countries, develop IP ecosystems that help home-grown IP translate into products and services which drive business growth.

2. Why is it important for the international community to forge a wide-ranging consensus on IP issues?

IP is far more than a legal or technical construct: it can make a real difference to lives globally. One powerful example is WIPO’s Marrakesh Treaty, which supports blind or visually impaired people with greater access to copyrighted works. Since it came into force in 2016, it has been the fastest growing treaty in WIPO’s history, covering close to 110 countries. But when it comes to Marrakesh – and the work of WIPO’s Accessible Books Consortium – it is not the statistics that take centre stage but its global impact. From supporting youth in their education to furthering careers, delivering new leisure and learning possibilities, Marrakesh is a clear example of how IP can change lives.

3. How does the rise of AI have an impact on IP issues and how can we ensure a level playing field for all entities, regardless of their size, strength and nature?

Artificial intelligence (AI) poses a number of challenges to the IP system but also many opportunities. The first challenge is its impact on IP office operations. Companies are now spending over US$50 billion on AI-related research and development (R&D) each year. This has led to a surge in AI-related patent applications, causing IP offices to have to address potential backlog issues. The upside of this is that IP offices are using innovative new services, such as accelerated IP grants, for AI-related technologies to meet this demand. In 2019, Singapore, which has been at the forefront of these developments, pioneered an initiative to accelerate the grant of an AI patent application from an average period of two years or more to as little as six months. Other IP offices have since launched similar initiatives. The second challenge is one of policy, including the ethics of AI technology use. Issues include whether AI can itself be considered an inventor (most governments have said no, at least for now) and the use of AI in areas such as facial recognition. These are complex and emerging issues and it is crucial that we come together to discuss the way ahead. This is why WIPO is hosting discussions on IP and Frontier Technologies to help the international community navigate this fast-moving landscape.

“Singaporeans are not just a bridge between East and West, but also North and South – we understand the challenges of development while being future-oriented. This allows us to build connections with a wide range of global stakeholders, which is important in multilateral work, as well as in leading an international organisation.”

4. With multilateralism in crisis, how can global players steer the narratives in the areas of cyber security and IP to a zone of trust and collaboration?

Multilateralism is clearly facing challenges, but this does not mean that it is in crisis. It may take more effort and move at a different pace these days, but progress is still possible. That said, there are several things we can do to support multilateralism.

First, the international community should focus on the challenges that bring us together rather than on what divides us. From accelerating progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to ensuring a truly global, sustainable and inclusive post-Covid-19 recovery, finding areas that unite people is key to getting everyone to move at the negotiating table.

Second, rather than fixating on big treaties that attempt to drive the harmonisation of laws, we should draw from the tech sector and apply an agile methodology. Alongside traditional norm-setting work, we should look at allied and complementary approaches, such as best practices, guidelines and recommendations.

5. Given that SMEs account for 90 per cent of all companies worldwide and 70 per cent of global employment, how can IP empower them to become a growth engine in a post-pandemic world?

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the main source of jobs, commerce and growth globally. They are also an important part of WIPO’s new strategy and vision, where innovation and creativity from anywhere are supported by IP for the greater good. For too long, too many SMEs have been unaware of how IP can boost their business. For example, a recent study found that European SMEs that use IP generated close to 70 per cent more revenue per employee than those that did not. Yet only 9 per cent of SMEs in Europe filed IP. Beyond our awareness-raising activities, WIPO is developing practical measures to support SMEs of all sizes to harness their IP. Our newly launched IP Diagnostics tool is designed for SMEs to identify their IP assets and how they can be used strategically for business growth. We are also working on a range of initiatives around IP as a financial asset class, which will address important issues such as IP valuation and finance.

6. What are some of the learnings from IP developments that Singapore must embrace and share with other nations?

For over a decade, Singapore has been consistently ranked within the top 10 of WIPO’s Global Innovation Index (GII). There are two reasons for this: First, the city-state does not look at IP in isolation but as part of a larger ecosystem that presents the right environment for innovation – for both local innovators as well as overseas innovations. It draws on its political stability; a strong business, finance and R&D environment; highly professional services; and an educated workforce. Second, Singapore takes a long-term perspective that allows for planning and development in a coherent and coordinated way. For example, the 2013 National IP strategy was revised in 2017, and a new version was released in 2021 that provides a roadmap for its IP plans until 2030. But even as the Lion City continues to do well, the world does not stand still.

South Korea, which broke into the GII top five for the first time this year, has overtaken Singapore to become the top-ranked Asian country. The popularity of K-pop and K-drama is the result of decades of investments that South Korea has made in its domestic creative economy. There are lessons here for all countries, including Singapore, which would do well to leverage on the growth of Asia and position itself as an IP hub through which the Asian region can connect to other parts of the world.

“Young Singaporeans should be confident about pursuing their passions, and offering their ideas, skills and perspectives to the world. It is my conviction that the world is ready for more Singaporeans to contribute globally, and we should not hold back in stepping up.”

7. What are some of the social impact issues that may be intertwined with IP laws on a global scale, and how do you address them?

The IP community needs to step up its engagement with youth, who are the innovators, creators and entrepreneurs of the future.

The theme of this year’s World IP Day on 26 April is “IP and Youth – Innovating the Future Together” and we have recently launched a Young Experts Program to bring more young talent from around the world to WIPO. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. WIPO’s work touches on a wide range of social issues. For example, our work in the area of Geographical Indications helps rural communities bring their traditional knowledge and heritage to the world by protecting thousands of originbased goods such as Cambodian Kampot Pepper and Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. Another area of focus for us is the gender gap in IP. Currently, only 16.5 per cent of patents filed through WIPO are from female inventors. This needs to change and it is why I recently appointed our first IP and Gender Champion at the deputy director-general level to help to coordinate our efforts to close the gender gap in IP filings and encourage more women to engage in the global IP system.

8. How can IP strengthen our response to pressing issues such as climate change and Covid-19?

IP needs to move from the periphery to the centre in global conversation. This is why WIPO has joined forces with the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization to provide support to member states during the pandemic. Together, we are pooling our expertise to develop a series of practical measures to support economies and societies combat Covid-19 and rebuild. On climate change, through our global technology matching platform, WIPO GREEN, we are not only connecting providers of climate change related technologies with those seeking sustainable solutions but we are supporting industries such as the Indonesian palm oil sector and Latin American agriculture explore green opportunities. These are just some of the ways that IP can help address global challenges on the ground.

9. What would your advice be to young Singaporeans on becoming more responsible global citizens?

For young Singaporeans, I would encourage them to see the world as their oyster. We are really quite unique in having Western and Asian perspectives, and this is something which allows us to navigate the world and be equally comfortable in Shanghai or San Francisco. Young Singaporeans should be confident about pursuing their passions, and offering their ideas, skills and perspectives to the world. It is my conviction that the world is ready for more Singaporeans to contribute globally, and we should not hold back in stepping up.

10. As the first Singaporean to helm a major UN organisation, what are some of the unique perspectives you bring to your role?

Singaporeans tend to be pragmatic rather than ideological. We seek what works, rather than just rely on what sounds good. This is crucial as what the world expects from UN agencies is not just sound bites and talk shops but action and results. Singaporeans are not just a bridge between East and West, but also North and South – we understand the challenges of development while being future-oriented. This allows us to build connections with a wide range of global stakeholders, which is important in multilateral work, as well as in leading an international organisation.

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