A Ping-Pong Table Puts Singapore's Intellectual Property Regulation Under the Spotlight

Photo by Singapore-based Jason Goh. CC0 Public Domain

Photo by Singapore-based Jason Goh. CC0 Public Domain

A round ping-pong table featured at the recent Southeast Asian Games in Singapore in June became controversial because of its similarity to an art work designed by Cultural Medallion winner Lee Wen. After this incident, a group of Singaporean artists called for discourse on intellectual property practices in this country.

They drafted a manifesto suggesting that more work is needed to ensure current intellectual property regulations are able to protect the rights of artists:

This incident highlights the lack of sufficient measures that respect and protect artistic creation in Singapore. In a nation that has been consistently ranked by international surveys as having one of the best IP protection laws in the world, why did this incident occur? Even if it was legal, is it ethical?


Given its importance, we feel that more can be done to encourage, respect and protect content creation. The government has made tremendous efforts in growing and professionalising the arts. Unfortunately, limited understanding of artists’ rights and standard industry practices remains.

Ping-Pong Go Round by artist Lee Wen. Photo by Flickr user Pascal Vuylsteker. CC BY-SA 2.0

Ping-Pong Go Round by artist Lee Wen. Photo by Flickr user Pascal Vuylsteker. CC BY-SA 2.0

The manifesto was signed by 229 theater people, writers, poets, filmmakers, journalists, actors and actresses, academics, dancers, arts administrators, performance artists, and visual artists from Singapore.

In response to their initiative, Sport Singapore (SportSG) decided to make a “goodwill payment” to the original creator of the horse-shoe ping-pong table, while the Southeast Asian Games Organising Committee noted that no copyright infringement was intended. Although this step demonstrates the institution’s awareness of the artist's rights, it is hardly a guarantee that no similar incidents will happen in future.

Instead, a more recent event may prompt officials to tackle the issue in more detail and provide the answer to intellectual property concerns.

During a recent visit to Singapore on his Southeastern Asia route, UK Prime Minister David Cameron pointed to the need for strengthening co-operation with Singapore on resolving this issue. Although the very process of trademark application review is quite straightforward, an ever growing number of applicants complicates it to a great extent.

Namely, given that organizations such as The World Economic Forum and the Political Economic Risk Consultancy rank Singapore's intellectual protection laws as the best in Asia, it is unsurprising that a large number of international businesses decides to launch innovative projects in the country. Consequently, Singapore is facing a record-breaking number of intellectual property protection applications mostly in the field of technology.

Artists, on the other hand, do not feel the government is doing everything it can to prevent incidents such as the one with Lee Wen's table from happening. In fact, they are concerned about the fact that “some IP lawyers feel no copyright was infringed” despite the fact the project has existed for years.

Cameron's comment, therefore, may trigger the necessary reconsideration of potential loopholes in the law. Although his decision is primarily focused on benefits for British businesses, it may be a huge step when it comes to further improvements of intellectual property regulations in Singapore.

Some Singaporeans seem delighted this issue was brought into spotlight.

By working together on such a serious matter, the two governments may make intellectual property regulation stable enough to protect everyone’s rights.


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