Intellectual property (IP) is the new currency in today’s global knowledge economy. Common forms of IP include patents, trademarks, copyright and industrial designs.

With the shift from manufacturing to innovation and technology over the last 20 years, IP has become a key asset for businesses, innovators and creators.

A major growth industry, IP-related professions are among the most exciting and dynamic. Among the options, patent examination has emerged as the new face of opportunity.

A patent is a right granted to the owner of an invention that prevents others from making, using, importing or selling the invention without his permission. Notable Singaporean inventions that have patents include the thumb drive and capsule speakers.

Once a patent is granted, the inventor can use it to raise funds for his business, license it to third parties for commercial returns, or sell it for a sum of money.

Patent examiners are the gatekeepers of the patent registration process. They determine whether patent rights should be granted to an invention by performing thorough searches through databases and comparing their findings to the invention on hand.

Patent examiners use their technical expertise and in-depth knowledge of the patent law to assess inventions on their novelty, inventiveness and industrial capability. Once the assessment is complete, patent examiners may meet up with the applicant and his patent attorney to discuss details of the examination report.

In Singapore, the Search and Examination unit at the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) undertakes patent examination. Since May last year, IPOS has been strengthening its search and examination capabilities to support Singapore’s IP ecosystem.

IPOS will be looking to recruit its third batch of patent examiners this March. Successful candidates can expect a fulfilling and challenging career with unique opportunities to undergo training programmes that will equip them with the specialised skills that are essential for patent search and examination.

Dr Seah Kwang Hwee is a member of the pioneer group of patent examiners at IPOS. After working as a digital integrated circuit designer at Infineon Technologies for a year, he moved to the Institute for Infocomm Research under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), where he spent eight years pursuing his doctoral and post-doctoral training.

Among the many reasons he became a patent examiner, the first and foremost was that patent examination is intellectually engaging and challenging.

Says Dr Seah: “Since each application is unique, it is akin to solving an ‘intellectual puzzle’. This allows me to hone my analytical skills and make use of the technical knowledge that I gained during my training as an engineer.” 

He adds that being a patent examiner has exposed him to a wide variety of technical areas, allows him to keep abreast with the latest technological developments and remain at the forefront of cutting-edge technology.

Another plus is that the skills of a patent examiner are transferable and highly valuable in today’s global knowledge economy.

Challenges at work

The typical day-to-day challenges a patent examiner faces include:

•   Understanding the underlying technology behind the application;

•   Identifying the inventive concept that the applicant is seeking protection for;

•   Searching for relevant prior art;

•   Examining the application on novelty, inventive steps and industrial applicability;

•   Crafting a written opinion based on the findings; and

•   Responding to the arguments raised by the applicants with regard to the issued written opinion.

What Dr Seah enjoys most as a patent examiner with IPOS is the collegiate environment where everyone is intellectually curious and inquisitive.

He says: “It is amazing that we can walk over to the next cubicle and strike up a conversation with domain experts from very diverse areas. We have domain experts from engineering — info communication technology, semi-conductors, and nanotechnology — to science — chemistry, biotechnology, materials engineering.”

IP and the protection of knowledge are becoming increasingly critical. As part of the pioneer batch of patent examiners, Dr Seah is pleased that he can help shape patent search and examination in Singapore and contribute to Singapore’s vision of being an IP hub of Asia.


Article by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, the Statutory Board that advises and administers the Intellectual Property (IP) regime, promotes IP usage and builds the expertise so as to facilitate the development of IP eco-system in Singapore. Website: