Inventor forced by Mindef to close company over patent rights
更加严重的情况是，国防部现在向他提出了58万元的法律诉诉讼费。这笔诉讼费用是要求作为撤销他的产品开发权和转让专利权给国防部。陈春铭医生对自己公司Mobilestats Technologies Pte Ltd的前景感到非常悲观。这家公司是拥有开发《营部流动流动救伤站》车（简称‘SWIFT’，下同。）产品开发权。
他是在2002年9月27日向新加坡知识产权局提出这个产品的专利权申请的。经过具有良好信誉的Danish Patent and Trademark Office数次的验证，他的专利产品最终在2005年7月6日获得知识产权局认可证书。
无论如何，陈医生已经对国防部失去兴趣了。他在2005 的贸易交易会上与新加坡武装部队的医疗队主管Wong Yue Sie（医生）准将说起有关SWIFT的医疗车没有在贸易交易会上展出的事。
Wong Yue Sie准将告诉他，
‘（SWIFT）的车子必须进行改装以适合于新加坡武装部队。’陈医生回顾说，‘例如，车子必须涂上伪装迷彩色和需要加固。他告诉Wong Yue Sie准将，这样的改装不是问题。原设计的车子是一个模型。’
‘我注意到您关心在编号SG Publication Number 113446有关可能侵犯他们的专利权的问题。我们与律师一起研究他们的设计模型与我们提交所提交的文件编号No. 7108105610的设计的医疗庇护所（Medical Shelter）后，我们的结论是，我们并没有侵犯他的专利权。而且，我们也认为，他们的设计缺乏新颖/或者独创性……基于此，他们是很难为自己的专利权辩护的。’
‘这是一场消耗战。’‘国防部不仅有总检察署为他们辩护，他们也接触了Wong and Leow律师事务所。为什么他们需要这么多的律师协助他们？他们一直在拖延这起案件，他们辩称，证人没空。这段期间，他们的拖延都是在造成增加我的诉讼费用。我已经没有剩余的金钱进行这场官司了。’
在这期间，Wong and Leow LLC 律师事务所已经向国防部开出了58万元的律师费。陈医生哪有钱去支付国防部这笔律师费。这样一来，陈医生的公司Mobilestats将陷入破产。这样一来，就等于陈医生的公司的债权人可以接管这家公司的专利权，直到国防部决定撤销SWIFT在知识产权局注册的专利权为止。
早前的一篇文章的观点设涉及到有关 指责Wong & Leow LLC的是没有根据的。照这篇文章的内容已经更正。我们仅此向 Wong & Leow LLC无保留的表达歉意。
Inventor forced by Mindef to close company over patent rights
JANUARY 15, 2015 BY HOWARD LEE IN TOC REPORTS • 80 COMMENTS
By Howard Lee
Facing a long-drawn and uphill lawsuit with the Ministry of Defence over a patent issue, Dr Ting Choon Meng, an innovator and medical professional, decided to withdraw his case due to mounting legal costs and a battle for which he saw no end in sight.
Even worse, given that Mindef is now demanding about S$580,000 in legal fees, to have his patent revoked and assign the rights to the Ministry, Dr Ting is looking at the very grim prospects of closing down his company Mobilestats Technologies Pte Ltd, the company holding the patent rights to his invention, the Station With Immediate First-Aid Treatment (SWIFT) vehicle.
“I am completely disheartened,” said Dr Ting. “After this incident, suffice to say that I have lost confidence in Singapore’s ability to be a global IP hub.”
What made his case even more poignant is that Dr Ting was appointed to the board of directors for the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) since April 2013. He has since stepped down in January 2014, after he withdrew his case against Mindef.
“It has come to a point whereby I am honestly convinced that there is no true conviction right at the top of our government for Singapore to be transformed into a Global IP Hub,” he had written in his resignation letter.
“Recent events and processes in my own encounter have unfortunately shown me that without real conviction and internalization from the top, what we are trying to do in IPOS are but lip service.”
International certification for innovation
Dr Ting and his partners invented SWIFT, effectively a quick-deployment first aid station for crisis use, after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US. Television footage of 9/11 made him realise that a vehicle-based medical facility would be a great game-changer in managing casualties during crises.
Subsequently, he applied for patent rights for his invention in no less than nine countries and successfully obtained the rights to intellectual property (IP) in almost all of them, including his home country Singapore.
His application to IPOS was filed on 27 December 2002, whereby it received a few rounds of checks through the reputed Danish Patent and Trademark Office, before it was finally approved on 6 July 2005.
Dr Ting and his partners continued to file for patent rights in eight other countries and regions, and received similar approvals in Australia, Japan, Israel, Taiwan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the United States of America and Europe.
During the long journey of certifying the IP for SWIFT, Dr Ting and his partners presented the concept to Commissioner of the Singapore Civil Defence Force Singapore Civil Defence Force, Mr James Tan, in 2004 and was asked to help build a prototype for trial purposes.
SCDF’s SWIFT vehicle (Image by Kenneth Lai)
SCDF eventually called for a tender in 2006 for vendors to manufacture SWIFT, and within the tender documents, indicated that interested bidders need to first sign a licensing agreement with Mobilestats before SCDF would consider their bid. The SWIFT vehicles went on to serve its operational needs, and were publicised several times as an icon of “SCDF innovation”.
“It needs to be ruggedized”
However, Dr Ting had a less pleasant experience with Mindef. At a trade fair in 2005, Dr Ting spoke to BG (Dr) Wong Yue Sie, then chief of the SAF Medical Corps, about the SWIFT vehicle that was on display.
“He told me that changes would have to be made to the vehicle if it were to be adapted for SAF’s use,” recounted Dr Ting. “For example, the vehicle would have to be painted to camouflage and it needed to be ruggedized. I told him that such changes would not be a problem, but I informed him the vehicle was patented.”
“He told me that he would contact SCDF and said to me that, “maybe we can do it on our own” or words to that effect. I remember that clearly because I remember telling him that he could not do that because the vehicle was patented.”
Dr Ting never heard from Mindef since. However, in April 2009, the Defence Science and Technology Agency called a tender to procure a “Mobile First-Aid Post”. While the tender required bidders to obtain licensing agreements for IP, DSTA’s tender did not specifically mention Dr Ting’s SWIFT, as SCDF’s has done. The contract was eventually awarded to Syntech Engineers Pte Ltd for production, which did not contact Dr Ting or his partner about the patent.
MINDEF’s SWIFT vehicle
“In fact, I didn’t know that they infringed our IP until we saw the vehicle exhibited at National Day Parade 2011,” said Dr Ting. It was supposedly the same vehicle that was featured in the 2011 National Day Parade, apparently as a fully operational model.
Intention to infringe?
Dr Ting decided to pursue the legal route with Mindef. “I can’t take it up with the vendor – they will just throw it back to Mindef, because they set out the tender. In any case, it was Mindef who drew up the specifications, they decided on the vehicle, so they should uphold the IP.”
Fax sent to Dr Ting’s lawyers
Curiously, in the exchange of legal letters, Dr Ting received a letter from Syntech, dated March 2009 and addressed to Mindef, outlined the company’s clear intent not to pay any heed to Dr Ting’s patent. Syntech wrote:
“We noted your concern with regards to the possible infringement of their patent rights under their SG Publication Number 113446. Together with our legal advisors, we have studied their patent design as compared to our Medical Shelter design submitted under Tender Ref No. 7108105610. We have conclude that there is no infringement of their patent rights. Moreover, we have also concluded that their patent lacked novelty and/or inventive step… As such, it will be very difficult for them to defend their patent rights.”
“It’s clear that Mindef is aware of potential infringement and had asked Syntech about it, but the company has decided not to obtain the IP license from us,” said Dr Ting. “Why did Mindef let that happen? Instead, they have effectively decided that our IP can be contested. And this was after IPOS has certified the patent!”
War of attrition
What Dr Ting did not count on was that the case would drag on for two years, costing him a fortune that effectively outweighed any licensing fee he would have been able to obtain from a successful case.
“It’s a war of attrition,” he said.
“Mindef not only had the Attorney General defending them, they also contracted Wong and Leow. Why did they need so many lawyers? They kept delaying the case, claiming that their witness was not available. Meanwhile, every delay cost me in legal fees. I have no more money to fight this case.”
Eventually, Dr Ting decided to drop the case in January 2014, as the legal cost was too high for him to bear.
Just as perturbing was Mindef’s actions to “settle” the case. Dr Ting had offered them settlement terms indicating that each party pay for their legal fees, that he would not claim IP license fees for the vehicles Mindef has already built and allowing them royalty-free use for up to three years. However, charges will apply for subsequent vehicles built by Mindef. Fairly reasonable, he thought.
However, just two weeks before the scheduled trial, Mindef dropped a bombshell with their “counter-offer”: Dr Ting had to pay for Mindef legal costs, drop all claims to IP, and surrender his patent for SWIFT in Singapore as well as for the other seven countries the patent is registered in.
This meant that Dr Ting not only lost the right to claim damages for the original infringement, but can no longer exercise his patent rights to SWIFT with other developers anywhere else in the world.
Just as strangely, although the courts awarded Mindef the right to revoke Dr Ting’s patent for SWIFT in October 2014, he heard from his sources that the agency has to date not gone to IPOS to complete the revocation.
“When I dropped the case, my conditions was that I would not claim for the vehicles Mindef has made, so long as they stop infringing on my IP,” said Dr Ting. “Instead, they countered by demanding that I pay their legal fees, and grant them free use of the patent.”
Meanwhile, Wong and Leow LLC slapped him with a legal bill of about S$580,000. Dr Ting had no more money to pay, and would likely have to put the company in receivership. Which means any party that takes over Mobilestats would still have the IP rights to SWIFT, until Mindef chooses to revoke it with IPOS.
“I honestly have no idea what Mindef is now planning to do with the IP for SWIFT,” said Dr Ting. “What I do know is that Mindef has produced up to 58 copies of the same vehicles. What for? I was a battalion commander in the Medical Corps before, and by my estimate, the entire SAF would only need about 12 to 14 SWIFT vehicles for its entire operational needs. Why produce 58?”