Francine Tan

What aspects of your work do you enjoy the most, and why?

What is especially wonderful about my work is the international aspect of it and the opportunities to be exposed to different cultures. The IP profession is colourful and diverse due to the global network and market, which is truly unique, and I have been a beneficiary of this blessing over the years. My life has been enriched by many inspiring, warm and talented people – both clients and colleagues – whom I have gotten to know from all corners of the globe. Apart from travelling and experiencing new cities, foods and cultures, this profession has stretched me in my thinking and how I consider and analyse issues and face new situations (eg, tackling legal arguments, problem solving, interactions, negotiations and mediation). The pearls of wisdom I have picked up have been invaluable in broadening my mind and have shaped me to be more adaptable, quicker to listen and slower to speak.

As the founder of your own firm, what makes a strong trademark team in your view, and how do you go about building one?

Throughout my 30-year career, I have observed the importance of unity at all levels. Fragmented leadership does not bode well for a company’s health. Another key ingredient is humility. No man is an island – we need one another, and no one is perfect. Mistakes are to be expected and learnt from. We encourage, pick each other up and move on. Mutual respect and accountability are vital. Finally, an agile mindset is critical and requires one to be flexible, unafraid of change, open to younger generations and new ways of doing things and to embrace innovation.

How have your clients’ needs evolved over the course of your career, and how have you adapted your practice to meet them?

New technologies and consumers’ behavioural changes in the new world have caused a major shift in clients’ expectations of their legal counsel. Pricing and good services have traditionally been important, but now, being proactive, commercial-minded, available and digitally well connected and having quick turnaround times are especially valued. Succinct and concise communication and practical advice are also preferable.

Which recent decisions or legislative developments have had the biggest impact on IP strategy in Singapore in the past few years?

The Singapore IP Strategy 2030 was a joint effort between the Ministries of Law, Finance and Trade and Industry and the IP Office of Singapore (IPOS), aimed at strengthening Singapore’s position as a global hub for intangible assets and intellectual property, attracting growth, innovation and skills development. In mid-2022, IPOS enhanced its IP-filing platform to be more intuitive and user-friendly. Training sessions and resources (eg, a pool of expert witnesses in various technology areas) in these fields are being developed to build knowledge and expertise. Significant investments are being made to grow Singapore’s reputation as a venue for think tank discussions, collaboration and dispute resolution and as a major hub for building expertise in IP and intangible asset financing and valuation. I think the government’s vision and its agencies’ efforts have had the biggest impact on IP strategy in Singapore of late.

As a domain name dispute panellist for WIPO, the National Arbitration Forum and the Asian Domain Name Dispute Resolution Centre, what are your predictions for how the blockchain domain challenge might evolve in the next 12 months?

I foresee that blockchain domains will become increasingly popular with the frequent use of blockchains. With that development, big challenges are arising for brand owners in terms of their options for enforcing rights against misuse and blockchain domain name squatting. <Prada.eth>, for instance, is already taken. Unlike traditional domain names that link to an IP address and help people find the website, blockchain domain names link to an address within the blockchain as an NFT and are unregulated. They are not governed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and no dispute resolution procedure is in place, such as the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy or Uniform Rapid Suspension system. Anonymity also presents problems for identifying the proper defendant and jurisdiction. However, “necessity is the mother of invention”, so it will be interesting to see how this legal conundrum will be resolved and the framework and jurisprudence that will develop to deal with blockchain domain name squatting.

Francine Tan

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Francine Tan founded her eponymous firm in 2010 and has practised IP law for 30 years. She is a domain name dispute panellist for WIPO, the National Arbitration Forum and the Asian Domain Name Dispute Resolution Centre and is on INTA’s board of directors. Ms Tan is an alumnus of the National University of Singapore, an advocate and solicitor (Singapore) and has been admitted as a solicitor for England and Wales.

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