IPOS (the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore) announced that the first patent had been granted under a fast track scheme for artificial intelligence (AI) patent applications known as the Accelerated Initiative for Artificial Intelligence on 27 August 2019. The patent entitled ‘METHOD AND SYSTEM FOR EVALUATING AN OBJECT DETECTION MODEL’ was granted to Alibaba Group Holding Limited for a patent application filed on 10 June 2019.
The Accelerated Initiative for Artificial Intelligence was launched on 26 April 2019 by IPOS and aims to allow applicants to secure grant of AI related patent applications in as little as 6 months from the filing date. For a patent application to qualify for the fast track scheme, it must relate to an AI invention, be first filed in Singapore, and contain 20 or fewer claims. Additionally, the applicant must request search and examination on the same day as the application is filed. The applicant must also respond quickly to objections raised against the application. The applicant must respond to any formalities objections within 2 weeks of receiving an adverse formalities report, and any substantive objections within 2 months of receiving written opinion. For an application to be granted under the fast track before the regular publication date 18 months after the filing date, early publication must be requested. There is no additional official fee for applications processed under the fast track. IPOS has indicated that the number of applications participating in the fast track will be limited to 50 per year.
IPOS also has a fintech fast track scheme that has a similar set of criteria for participation. There is currently no limit to the number of applications that may be accelerated under the fintech fast track scheme.
One notable requirement for eligibility for the AI fast track scheme, which also applies to the fintech fast track scheme, is the requirement that the application is first filed in Singapore. This means that applications which claim priority from an earlier application or Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) national phase applications are not eligible for the scheme. This requirement may deter foreign applicants from using the scheme for inventions made outside Singapore. Applicants wishing to use the scheme for inventions made outside Singapore must ensure that any foreign filing licence requirements from the country in which the invention was made are complied with before first filing the application in Singapore.
The Singapore patent regime is relatively friendly on the patentability of computer implemented inventions compared with major jurisdictions. As in most jurisdictions, mathematical methods and algorithms by themselves are not considered inventions and are therefore not patentable subject matter in Singapore. There is, however, no bar against computer program per se inventions, unlike in a number of major jurisdictions. In the Examination Guidelines for Patent Examinations at IPOS, it is stated that while machine learning algorithms and computational models are mathematical models and not considered to be inventions, the application of machine learning or artificial intelligence methods to solve a specific problem potentially is an invention and therefore likely to involve patentable subject matter. It is notable that the Singapore Examination Guidelines refer to the solution of a specific problem as being a key factor in determining whether an AI related method is patentable subject matter. This contrasts with other jurisdictions such as Europe in which the consideration is whether a technical problem is solved. Since the requirement that a specific problem is solved potentially encompasses a broader range of subject matter than the requirement that a technical problem is solved, it appears that the range of applications of AI that are patentable may be greater in Singapore.
IPOS has patent prosecution highway (PPH) agreements with most major global patent offices. Singapore is also a member of the ASEAN patent examination cooperation (ASPEC) programme. Both systems allow the use of a granted Singapore patent to expedite prosecution of corresponding patent applications in other jurisdictions. Thus, the AI fast track scheme may be used to obtain grant in Singapore and then as a springboard to accelerate prosecution of applications in other jurisdictions. It is important to bear in mind however, that there is no guarantee that other patent offices grant the same claims as allowed in Singapore. This particularly is the case with computer implemented inventions such as applications of AI since the rules on allowable subject matter vary between different countries.
It typically takes several years for a patent application to be granted. As the recently granted case demonstrates, the AI fast track provides a route to obtain grant of a patent very quickly. While this first case proceeded to grant without any substantive objections raised by the examiner, it may be possible to achieve grant within 6 months even in cases where objections are raised provided that a response is filed within the timing requirements of the scheme.