On tobacco plain packaging proposal in Singapore

This is my letter to the HPB yesterday. The auto reply said they have received it and will look into it.

Subject: Singapore’s plan on “Standardized packaging” of tobacco products
To: HPB_Mailbox@hpb.gov.sg

Health Promotion Board
3 Second Hospital Avenue,
Singapore 168937

Dear Sir/Madam,

I have read your campaign to control tobacco use and promote good health among Singapore citizens, it is a good objective. But I notice that you also plan to introduce or legislate “standardized packaging” or “plain packaging” in tobacco products, and I think it can adversely affect Singapore’s good image on protecting intellectual property rights (IPR).

It is true that smoking is dangerous to one’s health. I myself am not a smoker, never smoked a single stick in my whole life, never worked for the tobacco industry or its allied industries. But I think people have a choice for their body. They recognize the danger of smoking — and drinking, drugs, over-eating, sedentary lifestyle, etc. — and still they do it. They compare the health risks with the pleasure of those actions then they decide whether to continue doing it or not; if they continue, whether to smoke 1 or 20 sticks a day, drink 1 or 10 bottles of beer a day, etc.

Plain packaging (PP) is wrong for the following reasons.

  1. Singapore is known for its clear and strong property rights protection, both physical and intellectual property. Abolition or significant reduction of the trademarks and corporate logo of tobacco companies via PP will dent this image and put Singapore’s adherence to IPR protection in a question mark.
  1. If Singapore is to be consistent in its policy, then it will be pressured in the near future to also introduce PP for alcohol products like beer and whiskey, soda, chocolate bars, other high sugar, high fat content meals and snacks.
  1. People who derive pleasure in smoking will continue to smoke despite PP and they will likely shift to cheaper and illicit products. Overall smoking incidence can either flatline or even increase because tobacco companies will produce cheaper but cool-tasting products, which will attract new  smokers or entice the few-sticks-a-day smokers to become one pack a day smokers. PP will only adversely affect the sale of known and premium products of the big multinational tobacco  companies but not the cheap products of lesser known companies.
  1. If drawn in a graph, the supply curve of cheap cigarettes will move to the right as manufacturers of premium brands will soon produce lots of plain pack but cheap cigarettes. Equilibrium price goes down while equilibrium quantity goes up, even if the demand curve does not move.

Discouraging the people from smoking can be done via more public education. The graphic health warnings, campaigns by the  Ministry of Health and health NGOs or groups are part of such public education.

But some people will continue to  smoke – and over-drink, over-eat, over-sit in  sedentary lifestyle – despite learning more and new things  about the dangers of smoking, over-drinking, and so on. Government cannot micro-manage the lives of people all the  time. What Singapore should continue protecting is its image  as the bastion of IPR  protection, whether companies are in  IT, pharma, healthcare, hotels, food,  alcohol or tobacco.

Thank you very much.


Bienvenido Oplas, Jr.
President, Minimal Government Thinkers
Manila, Philippines


IP development in Singapore

Of the 10 member-states of the ASEAN, Singapore is the most dynamic and most attractive in terms of trade, investments, finance, tourism and property rights protection, including intellectual property (IP). Which shows that the  main purpose  of having government is to help the people expand, not limit, their individual freedom, including the freedom to own and control private property, physical or non-physical or intellectual.

Below are three news reports that affirm this. Singapore is now ASEAN’s patent search and examination authority. This is something that other member-states of the ASEAN should  consider and emulate — when private property is secured and protected, more trade and investments, more finance and tourism, will come from many countries abroad.

So it is not about how populist and welfarist a government is that gives attractive and stable socio-economic environment; rather, it is the observance and enforcement of the rule of law, including the protection of IP rights (IPR).


(1) Asian Scientist, Supporting The Asian Innovation Renaissance, May 21, 2015.

In total, innovators filed 2.57 million patent applications in 2013, a 9% increase from 2012. But while patent filings increased by over 26% in China, 12% in Australia and 8.3% in Korea, European filings were in decline, according to the 2014 World Intellectual Property Indicators report that gathers data on IP rights from more than 100 countries.

To help businesses in Asia convert IP rights into assets, the SMU School of Law will soon launch the Applied Research Centre for Intellectual Assets and the Law in Asia, in May 2015. “The Centre will focus on the interaction between IP law and business to facilitate appreciation of Asian intellectual assets and understanding of IP law in Asian economies, and the push for IP law cooperation in ASEAN,” explains the Centre’s director, Professor Liu Kung Chung.

(2) Channel News Asia, Singapore begins operations as ASEAN’s first international patent search, examination authority, August 31, 2015.

Local and global businesses and inventors will from Sep 1 be able to fast track their applications for patent protection in multiple markets via Singapore. This comes as the Republic kicks off operations as ASEAN’s first International Patent Search and Examination Authority under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).

In a press release on Monday, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) said that Singapore is the fifth in Asia – after China, India, Japan and Korea – to join a group of 19 IP offices worldwide that have been appointed as International Authorities for the PCT.

IPOS also said that patent applicants from Brunei, Japan, Mexico, Laos and Vietnam will be the first to gain access to Singapore’s new service offerings as an International Searching Authority and International Preliminary Examining Authority in the coming months. These arrangements were set out under bilateral agreements signed recently at IP Week @SG 2015, said IPOS.

According to the authority, Singapore is a “choice PCT application destination” because of its quick office turnaround time of around 60 days for most cases, as compared to two to three years of waiting time for similar responses from other IP offices. Patent applicants could also enjoy rebates of up to 75 per cent when applying through IPOS.

(3) Channel News Asia, Singapore and UK boost intellectual property cooperation, September 21, 2015.

SINGAPORE: A new intellectual property (IP) agreement is set to benefit the Republic and the UK, with closer IP cooperation and enhanced UK-ASEAN trade relations, said the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) and the UK Intellectual Property Office in a joint media release on Monday (Sep 21).

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which was signed on Monday, will improve international cooperation between the two IP offices, on issues relating to copyright, patents, trade mark and design, said the release.

“Singapore is an influential voice on issues of intellectual property in the ASEAN region,” said UK Minister for Intellectual Property, Baroness Neville Rolfe, adding that the MOU will allow the UK and Singapore to share best practices in areas such as IP rights protection, IP-related research and the streamlining of IP court processes.

Mr Tan Yih San, chief executive of IPOS, said: “This MOU reaffirms our mutual commitment to increase cross-border IP cooperation and provide a robust IP system for businesses and creators looking to expand into the UK, and those seeking to venture into the ASEAN region.”