Chief Justice justifies stringent stance on IP infringement


In Ong Ah Tiong v Public Prosecutor ([2004] 1 SLR 587), the Chief Justice of Singapore has upheld a sentence of 32 months' imprisonment for breach of the Singapore Trademarks Act and Copyright Act. He noted that the increasingly stringent approach that Singapore courts are taking against IP infringement is justified by the fact that, among other things, Singapore is a prominent business hub and its government has made strong efforts to promote it as a regional IP centre.

Ong was the managing director of Hi-Star Multimedia Pte Ltd and its sole active partner. Five charges were brought against him for possession of counterfeit articles for the purpose of trade pursuant to Section 49(c) of the Trademarks Act. A further charge was brought under Section 136(2)(a) of the Copyright Act in relation to his possession of infringing copies of copyrighted materials for the purposes of sale.

Ong was convicted on the first three charges and admitted to the offences contained in the other three charges. The judge took into consideration these admissions when sentencing Ong to 32 months' imprisonment but Ong appealed, arguing that the sentence was "manifestly excessive".

The Chief Justice upheld the sentence. In doing so, he took into consideration public policy, the general approach in related sentencing precedents and the facts of the case. He made the following comments in relation to the role of the judiciary in enforcing an enhanced regime of protection of IP rights:

  • Singapore is a prominent business hub. The Singapore government has made strong efforts to promote (i) Singapore as a regional IP centre, and (ii) the concomitant need to clamp down on piracy of intellectual property.

  • It is manifestly in the public interest to deter potential criminals who are inclined to use Singapore as a distribution centre or a base for transhipment of counterfeit products to neighbouring countries.

  • It is the intention of the legislator to provide more severe penalties for offences committed in relation to the sale, or possession of counterfeit goods for the purposes of trade, in order to protect the owners of IP rights who have invested heavily in research, design, production and marketing of their goods.

This position seems to confirm that Singapore IP owners can look forward to greater protection of their rights. This is made more tangible by the proposed amendments to the Trademarks Act, which, among other things, will entitle owners of registered trademarks to statutory damages in counterfeit cases. The proposals are still under consideration (see Consultation period on Trademarks Act amendments closes).

Chay Mei Ber, Tan JinHwee Eunice & Lim ChooEng, Singapore

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