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Tiger Pictures Entertainment Ltd v. Encore Films Pte Ltd: An expedited process in the interest of justice?

A recent High Court judgment was the first of its kind that concerned the “simplified process” for intellectual property claims in Singapore. The simplified process took effect in Singapore from April 1, 2022. It is a discretionary, streamlined process to expedite the management of intellectual property disputes to enable disputants (particularly SMEs) to save costs and time when invoking their rights.

Encore Films Pte Ltd (the defendant) sought a declaration that the simplified process did not cover Tiger Pictures Entertainment Ltd’s (the claimant) claim. The claimant, a company established in China, is a global film distribution business. The defendant is a company established in Singapore that distributes films in Southeast Asia.

The claimant began discussions with the defendant, using text messages and emails, with the intention of crafting a distribution agreement for the release of the movie Moon Man in Singapore.

However, the parties did not come to an agreement on significant points and never formalized a written distribution agreement. Nevertheless, the defendant took the initiative to launch the movie in Singapore, arguing that an agreement had been implicitly established through their electronic communications.

In response, the claimant accused the defendant of copyright infringement regarding the movie. The defendant denied any wrongdoing and, in turn, levelled two counterclaims against the claimant: one, for supposed baseless allegations of copyright infringement, and two, for the supposed infringement of the defendant’s copyright in a completely different movie.

In order to resolve the claim, the claimant opted for the simplified process, which is aimed at saving costs and time. For the simplified process to apply, the following requirements must have been met:

  1. The dispute concerns intellectual property;
  2. Generally, the damages sought by each party would not go above S$500,000 (US$370,000), or would be unlikely to do so; and
  3. The matter was an appropriate one for the simplified process, with due consideration of, amongst others, the following:
    1. Whether the simplified process was the only option available to a party given its financial circumstances;
    2. The complicacy of the matter; and
    3. Whether the duration of the trial would probably run over two days.

The defendant took issue with this approach and submitted a request for an order stating that the simplified process was not applicable in this case as the trial would probably run over two days and would require four days. The defendant leaned on a number of considerations to support its proposition. Firstly, it stated that the matter was a fact and context-sensitive enquiry which would require its five witnesses to testify on a wide range of factual issues. Secondly, it stated that two of its five witnesses would be testifying in Chinese which will require interpretation by an interpreter.

Notwithstanding the defendant’s position above, the judge held that the above requirements had been satisfied. First, the matter was concerned with intellectual property because it was a claim in copyright infringement. Second, the relief sought was unlikely to go above S$500,000. The judge also found that just because either or both disputants had the means to pursue “normal” litigation, this in and of itself did not preclude the applicability of the simplified process. The dispute was also not particularly complicated. Further, duration of the trial would not exceed two days, particularly considering that the defendant’s expert witness was unlikely to be called.

Accordingly, the matter qualified for the simplified process, and the defendant’s application was dismissed.

This article was first published in the IP Analysts column of Asia IP.