A doctor, a professor, a philanthropist, and an inventor. A man who believes in educating young Singaporeans to think and imagine, and not just to follow. A firm believe in putting Singaporeans first.
That’s Dr Ting Choon Meng. That’s the man that Singapore’s Ministry of Defence cruelly ripped off by stealing the rights to his design for a first-aid vehicle from right under his nose.
A short rags to riches story of Dr Ting
From young, he stood in for his seaman father, who was seldom home, while his seamstress mother toiled.
By age 11, he was cooking, ironing and tutoring his four younger siblings.
The Pearl’s Hill Primary, Gan Eng Seng Secondary and National Junior College student was the only one in his family to qualify for the University of Singapore medical school.
During National service, he attended Officer Cadet School as a medical officer, where his right index finger got sliced off by a bayonet.
He became a GP at a family health clinic, and later on invented a blood pressure monitoring watch that would shake up the medical world – the BPro.
In 2007, the device won a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer award, which counts Google and PayPal among previous winners. Today, all the hospitals here, including some clinics, widely use his wireless monitoring devices.
Dr Ting has given out some 30 scholarships to students from Singapore Management University and Pioneer Junior College. The only condition – they pay it forward and help other needy students when they are financially-capable.
A serial inventor, Dr Ting and his partner would go on to develop a mobile first-aid centre in 2004. It was patented in more than 9 countries, including Singapore. That is, until MinDef conspired with an external vendor, Syntech, in 2009 to run with the idea force him to revoke all rights to the invention. Read the full story here.
The Great MinDef Heist
What happens if ordinary citizens really do come up with something novel, and this can be taken away in a flash? Or in this case, after years of legal wrangling?
Dr Ting received intellectual property rights to his invention in more than 9 countries. Even the SCDF acknowledged this and played fair by demanding that its vendor give Dr Ting’s company, HealthStats, its dues.
But MinDef and its legal battalion was allowed to run roughshod over this.
Let’s not forget, this invention received IP rights in more than 9 countries, including Denmark, Britain and the US.
Are we truly that Uniquely Singapore?
No Country for Innovators
“All things being equal, we should get local brands. The Government should be the first and main customer of local enterprises, as in Japan and Germany.”
Sadly, this wasn’t the case for Dr Ting when he created his award-winning BPro blood pressure monitor.
Cardiologists here boycotted his talks. “I’ve been told countless times I’m only a GP… Re-learning is uncomfortable,” he concedes.
Economic Development Board officers asked him where he took the technology from, implying he copied it, and remarked: “You mean a Singaporean can do this?” Others took issue that he had no PhD, only a medical degree. And that his was a “local company, single product, with no track record”.
“But you got to start somewhere, isn’t it? It’s called colonisation of the mind.”
Dr Ting had to obtain patents from the US and other western nations, before the Singapore medical scene even bothered to take notice.
What does this spell for Singaporean innovators, then?
Can we blame Singaporeans for wanting to try their luck abroad, if their own country can’t even accept them?
And if they make it there, should we call them “quitters” or the reason for Singapore’s brain drain if they were to give Singapore the collective middle finger? Their homeland that refused to give them even the slightest of shots?
The government continues to trumpet its desire for creativity and innovation in Singapore.
But following Dr Ting’s story, how can any Singaporean feel assured that anything they create will not be laid at the mercy of the bureaucratic meat-grinder, and they’ll be left with nothing except wounds to lick?
And even if they have the mind for invention, will they be given the support needed to develop their ideas without being stone-walled by unimaginative leaders who are grossly resistant to change?
It’s probably time to give this machine the collective middle finger.