With technology-driven innovation taking centre-stage in the next phase of global growth, Asia looks poised to continue its trajectory towards economic dominance. Of the 18 economies identified as global outperformers in a recent report for the World Economic Forum, no fewer than 12 are situated in Asia. (1)
In 2018, Asian companies accounted for more than two-thirds of all patent, trademark and industrial design applications for the first time. All but two of the top 10 patent-filing companies were Asia-based and the region’s increase in expenditure on research and development has not been matched anywhere else since 2000. (2)
Home to multiple Silicon Valleys, the Asian start-up scene has turned feverish in countries such as South Korea, China, Singapore, and Indonesia. Many innovation hubs have sprung up with some even residing within the belly of government bureaucracy. Open Government Products, a unit within Singapore’s GovTech Agency, for example, has been pioneering digital products for public services; its popular Parking.sg app which lets users pay, extend and refund parking sessions with their phones, has rapidly replaced paper parking coupons across the city-state.
The persistent quest for innovation by young affluent populations adept at creating and managing disruptive technologies has fuelled the rise of unicorns in Asia. Unlike their entrepreneurial forebears who built their wealth from real estate, manufacturing and trading, these newly-minted titans of technology are laying their foundations on intangible assets and unlocking growth and valuation through unique intellectual property (IP) that protects business innovation.
In the last three decades, intangible assets have replaced tangible assets as the main component of company value. A 2015 Intangible Asset Market Value Study by Ocean Tomo found that the S&P 500’s intangible asset base accounted for 84% of the total value of the index, up by 52% since 1985. This has given rise to speculation that intellectual property may be the most valuable asset class on the planet. (3)
Two Asian companies – South Korea’s tech giant Samsung and Singapore gaming unicorn, Razer – exemplify how Asian companies are thriving on the back of well-crafted IP strategies.
Samsung: South Korea’s global tech giant
South Korean tech giant Samsung embodies Asia’s transformation from a manufacturing base dependent on technology transfer to its emergence as a major global innovation leader. Currently the world’s largest owner of active patents by some margin, Samsung increased its patent filing activities by 11% last year. (4) In 2018 Samsung spent €14.8 billion on innovation, second only to Alphabet/Google according to the EU’s Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard. (5)
Samsung’s growth as a global conglomerate is a story of how it has successfully exploited its technological edge to expand into new and diverse areas. Its empire now extends beyond its origins in consumer electronics to semi-conductors and heavy industries such as shipping, ﬁnancial services, trading and licensing. With its relentless focus on staying ahead in the innovation stakes, Samsung’s strategic objective to overtake Apple and Google looks increasingly plausible. In 2017, Samsung overtook Apple to report the biggest profits for the second quarter of any public company and today it leads the global race to secure the highest number of 5G patent grants. (6)
Razer: Singapore’s global gamer brand
Amongst Singapore’s tech successes, Razer stands out for its sophisticated approach to intellectual property which is at the core of its business strategy. Over the last 15 years, this tech unicorn has grown into a multi-faceted premium lifestyle brand for the fast-growing gamer demographic worldwide.
Razer has the distinction of being the company with the most patents and design applications filed in Singapore, registering over 3,000 patents, trademarks and registered designs since 2005. 2019 saw Razer Singapore’s office file a record 53 patents and design applications, a 50 percent increase from 2017. (7)
Having gone from making gaming hardware to developing a global gaming software platform with 80 million users, Razer is now evolving into a multi-dimensional brand that develops customised online services for its extensive user demographic. These range from fintech solutions (drawing on their virtual gaming currency Razergold) to online entertainment services such as e-clubbing and e-sports.
Razer’s Corporate Social Responsibility strategy during COVID-19 demonstrates an astute understanding of how intangible assets can be leveraged to boost brand value. The company worked with partners to pivot its manufacturing assets to the automated production of masks in record time. Razer then distributed these masks to Singaporeans free of charge through vending machines equipped with its proprietary Razer Pay e-wallet system, thus enhancing its brand and exposing potential new users to its fintech product. (8) Mr Choo Wei-Pin, Razer’s Chief Legal and Compliance Officer, will be sharing more insights on how they have remained nimble in the face of rapid and unexpected challenges during this pandemic at IP Week @ SG 2020’s 10th COP on IP Management event.
The Asian innovation ecosystem
Innovative companies often owe some of their success to the supportive ecosystems in which they develop. Both South Korea and Singapore figured in the top three most innovative countries in the 2019 Bloomberg Innovation Index. Singapore’s pro- business environment, rated the most competitive in the world by the Institute for Management Development, and its IP regime, ranked second best in the world in 2019 by the World Economic Forum, have been cited by Mr Choo Wei-Pin as crucial factors in its success.
IP offices can play an important role in supporting companies on their innovation journey as the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) demonstrates. Ranked the most innovative IP office by the World Trademark Review in 2020, IPOS proactively engages with businesses to help them protect, commercialise and leverage their intellectual property using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and new technologies to streamline filing processes. (9) It launched the world’s first mobile app - IPOS GO – for trademark filing and has developed innovative schemes to enable more efficient resolution of IP disputes.
The ecosystems that exist in Asia provide an insight into why Asian companies are currently at the forefront of innovation. Supporting businesses to develop and protect “Singapore Ranked World’s Most Innovative IP Office in Exclusive Research”, World Trademark Review, 6 April 2020 their most important strategic asset – their intellectual property – can nurture more companies that define the leading edge of innovation.
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