How Jeffrey Tiong grew Patsnap from patent search tool into a provider of global IP intelligence
Patsnap's global database of patents has become a tool instrumental in shaping global R&D trends today.
KOH YUEN LIN
4 Nov 2017 - 23:00
A Xiaomi smartphone. A tablet of Berocca. A Chevrolet. Though far removed from one another, they are connected by one thing: an intellectual property navigation system that guides the innovation behind each of them, developed right here in Singapore.
The man behind the product is 33-year-old Jeffrey Tiong. Few might imagine the man who speaks candidly in Singlish to be the founder and CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation whose clients include Nasa, Vodafone, and Xiaomi. Yet, behind his unassuming demeanour is a man of vision and gumption.
The idea for such a system came to Tiong during his National University of Singapore days, on an overseas work-cum-study programme. While working at a medical device start-up in Philadelphia, the biomedical engineering undergraduate was tasked with doing intellectual property due diligence and, so, had to plough through massive sets of public information, using legalese and technical terms as search phrases.
“Back then, the only free tools were government websites, and access to other databases was very expensive, costing companies anything from US$50,000 to US$100,000 per year on average. Start-ups can’t afford that. So I thought of creating something cheaper and simpler to use.”
That was in 2005. Upon graduation, he founded Patsnap in 2007 with just $55,000 from the Media Development Authority’s student start-up grant. In 2012, Patsnap Global Patent Analytics Database was officially launched. Today, the online service – which allows users to sort through millions of patents granted worldwide using simple English terms – benefits about 3,000 organisations spanning 28 countries.
To merely call it a search tool for the R&D industry is to grossly understate its impact. By making patent information easily accessible, the service is also creating an R&D roadmap of sorts for the world. The team at Patsnap has also gone on to analyse all that information – including more than 120 million patents, litigation data, company technology and financial profiles, and innovation-focused documents – to decipher the relationships, patterns and trends across industries, using deep learning artificial intelligence. This intelligence helps companies around the world decide where to place their chips when it comes to developing new products.
From a one-man show, Patsnap has grown into a multi-national entity with a global headcount of about 800 staff, spread across six offices in China, the United Kingdom, America and Singapore. Tiong is also looking to set up another office in Japan.
Late last year, it closed its Series C financing for an undisclosed amount, with the round led by venture capital firm Sequoia Capital China and Shunwei, a fund co-founded by Lei Jun, CEO of Xiaomi. Yet, canvassing for funds was hardly easy at the beginning. In 2008, he had nothing more than the initial $55,000 after knocking on the doors of more than 20 government agencies, private companies and individual investors. “So I said, screw this, I’m getting out of here,” he shares.
China beckoned with its sheer market volume. He settled on Suzhou “because it was comparatively cheaper”, rounded up a team of seven people, rented an apartment the size of a small studio, and lived and worked out of it.
Then came their 2010 breakthrough, when venture capital firm Accel-X and NUS Enterprise invested $900,000 in the company. With these funds, the team managed to work on developing Patsnap’s Global Patent Analytics Database.
Leading people remains the biggest challenge today for the introverted Tiong. “When I started the business, I thought it was just about translating a good idea into a good product. But I realise today that running a business is really about leadership.” Over the years, he has honed his management skills by regarding each challenge as a valuable opportunity to learn and grow his experience in leading others.
As with most entrepreneurs, he finds it hard to juggle work and family. The father of a 20-month-old girl laments: “I see my kid a couple of days a month. Missing out on seeing my child grow up is my biggest sacrifice. But I remind myself that my work is the legacy that I will leave behind. ”