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Keywords:

  • IP Singapore;
  • knowledge economy;
  • IP Asia;
  • Singapore political economy

This article seeks to take an exploratory and critical look at the role of intellectual property (IP) in the development of Singapore. IP protection has become an important factor in the move to a knowledge-based economy (KBE), in which information is a prized asset. In order to preserve its traditional role as a regional trading entrepôt, its economy has evolved from an initial concentration on heavy industry-based manufacturing to manufacturing in knowledge-intensive products (electronics, chemicals and engineering), and the provision of financial and banking services. IP is now, arguably, a critical factor in the latest attempts by the Singaporean leadership to remain relevant to the regional and global economy. Faced with numerous competitors and cheaper labor markets, an impressive drive has been launched towards the enhancement of knowledge-intensive industries for which IP protection is vital. These include the creative industries strategy (copyright industries) and the provision of biomedical services (pharmaceutical, medical devices, biotechnology and healthcare services), the “fourth pillar” of Singapore's manufacturing sector, in addition to electronics, chemicals and engineering. Singapore seeks a competitive edge in this niche, for which IP protection seems vital. Patents are particularly relevant to the fourth pillar. This article will examine the following: (1) the place of IP historically in its economic development; (2) its role in various aspects of various strategies in its current economic development plans—the creative industries strategy, the intelligent island strategy and the fourth pillar strategy; and (3) critical IP issues for Singapore's economy. It does so with several key questions in mind. (1) Could the drive to an IP intensive knowledge economy generate social dislocations? (2) Which segments of Singaporean society stand to gain or lose in the move to an intensively knowledge-based economy? (3) Can the IP system contribute to softening the blow in any such dislocations? This article seeks to stimulate research into the social and economic impact of IP in Singapore's developmental process, an area thus far understudied.