Update: we are very pleased to report that IPOS has listened to our concerns and has amended the proposed new application number format to use numeric identifiers for IP types, instead of alphabetic identifiers (personal communication 20 January 2014). We’ll post a new blog entry to describe the new application number format in further detail.

The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore is introducing a new electronic filing system in early February next year, in time for commencement of the Patents (Amendments) Act 2012.

The new electronic filing system is part of its “integrated registries” concept, in which one single filing system will be used for all electronic filings in trade marks, registered designs and patents (as well as plant variety rights, one assumes).

Currently, Singapore patent application numbers are issued by IPOS in the form YYYYNNNNNN-C, where YYYY is a 4 digit year, NNNNNN is a six digit serial identifier, and C is a check digit.

An example of a Singapore patent application number in the current format is 200506725-1. Like many other patent and trade mark attorneys around the world, we usually prefix application numbers with a two character country code, from ISO ISO3166-1-alpha-2, so the application number 200506725-1 would usually be represented as SG 200506725-1.

We have now discovered that when the new electronic filing system is rolled out, IPOS intends to assign application numbers in a new format. The new format is similar to the existing format, but with an additional two character alphabetic code at the beginning to distinguish between different types of registrable intellectual property rights.

Apparently, someone at IPOS thinks that it is important to be able to identify the type of intellectual property right from the application number.

Under the new format, a Singapore patent application number would have the form AAYYYYNNNNNNC. For patents, the IP right identifier is “PT” and in serial numbers for Singapore patent applications, the year and serial number will be prefixed by “PT”. An example of a patent application number in the new format is PT201300965E.

Leaving aside the question of how often one would need to actually figure out what type of IP right is represented by an application number (in my experience, never - this is usually obvious from the context), the addition of PT at the beginning of the patent application number is likely to lead to considerable confusion among Singapore patent agents, the public at large, and foreign and international clients and patent attorneys.

The reason for this is that PT is the ISO3166 -1-alpha-2 code for Portugal. Indeed, “PT” is also a commonly acronym for Portugal, used by the public at large. Given the fact that application numbers are routinely preceded by two-letter country codes, there is every possibility (indeed likelihood) that a reader would think that an application number such as PT201300965E is a Portuguese patent application number.

The problem is possibly worse for trade marks and designs. If “TM” is used as an identifier for trade mark applications, there is a distinct possibility that our Singapore trade mark applications would be confused as Turkmenistani trade mark applications.

Similarly, if “DE” is used as an identifier for design applications, there is every possibility that our Singapore design applications would be confused as German trade mark applications!

You will not be surprised to hear that the World Intellectual Property Organisation has thought about this issue. WIPO Standard ST.13 seeks to provide a “Recommendation for the Numbering of Applications for Industrial Property Rights (IPRS)”.

According to WIPO Standard ST.13,

“The WIPO Standard ST.3 country/organization code is not part of the application number except in cases described in Section (e). For representation, however, the application number should always be preceded by the ST.3 code of the corresponding office.” (emphasis added)

WIPO Standard ST.13 recommends that application numbers be presented in the form:

: : the type of industrial property right (2 digits) : the year designation (4 digits) : the serial number (9 digits)

Importantly, WIPO makes a recommendation that, if a country wishes to include an identifier of the type of intellectual property right, that identifier should be numeric (and not alphabetic), precisely to avoid the problems discussed above:

“IPOs introducing parallel numbering series for different types of IPRs are recommended to use two digits (numeric characters only), which represent the type of IPR, in order to avoid possible confusion with the country code, which is represented by two alphabetic characters in accordance with WIPO Standard ST.3.” (emphasis added)

We have written to IPOS to express our concerns and have provided them with a copy of WIPO Standard ST.3 (pointing out the statements in that document). We hope that IPOS will be able to change its mind before February next year and avoid the use of alphabetic characters at the beginning of application numbers.

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