As known to those who have been following the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Dr Ting Choon Meng/The Online Citizen saga since its beginning, it all started after TOC reported on Dr Ting’s recount of the sequence of events which transpired between his company, MobileStats Pte Ltd and MINDEF in 2015.
Dr Ting alleged that MINDEF had infringed his patent for “Mobile First Aid Post” and had the patent revoked through a ‘war of attrition’ in the courts.
Following the report, MINDEF sent a letter of demand to both Dr Ting and TOC and subsequently filed a lawsuit under section 15 of the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA)
So finally, after two years of legal battle, the Court of Appeal passed its judgement in the landmark case on 16 January, stating that the Singapore Government is not deemed as a “person” under the s15 of POHA and therefore, ruling that its application for the use of POHA is invalid.
However, one must note that the Court merely ruled that the Government is not entitled to use POHA as a non-natural person and not about the case between Dr Ting and MINDEF.
Which is why MINDEF, Ministry of Law and government-affiliated websites have since started to change their propaganda tactics to paint the Government as a victim of deliberate “falsehoods” targeted at discrediting the public institutions.
One has to really wonder, despite the massive publicity budget and outreach of the Government, notwithstanding the fact that the Mainstream Media is under its control, the PAP Government was unable to clarify and rebuke the “falsehoods”?
But if one understand the background of the case, one would not blame MINDEF for taking such extreme measures to address the allegations by Dr Ting through a lawsuit. Because it knows that it simply cannot convince the public with its counter-claims against what Dr Ting has said and his reputation.
One could also argue that throughout the whole saga since 2015, MINDEF has produced its own fair share of “falsehoods” for public consumption to define its standing.
Syntech/MINDEF did not engage in a “war of attrition”
While MINDEF keeps touting the “fact” that it won in court against MobileStats and insisted that it did not delay the case and hearings as a “war of attrition” against MobileStats, but there are a few points that dispute this “fact”.
(First, to note is that the legal case was filed against MINDEF by MobileStats but was represented by Syntech, MINDEF’s contractor which produced the mobile aid stations and therefore referred to as Syntech/MINDEF in the legal proceedings.)
One, MINDEF took two years to find their key witness. After the suit was filed by MobileStats for copyright infringement in 2011, Syntech/MINDEF was not able to provide a key witness to stand court and had to take two years before the first hearing was held in 2013.
Two, only the two inventors from MobileStats took the stand to be cross-examined by the lawyers representing Syntech/MINDEF. In the cross-examination, it was noted that the design of MINDEF’s mobile aid station is similar to the one patented by MobileStats and had its operating manual mentioning technical specifications as what MoblieStats’ operating manual had featured.
Three, Syntech/MINDEF’s key witness did not take the stand. Just before the key witness was about to take the stand, he had to return back to the United States and the hearing was postponed to a later date. So though the first hearing was marked for five days. It ended prematurely at just two days.
MobileStats withdrew from the case subsequently after the case was further extended, as there was no sight of when the case would end. In its judgement, the court ruled that MobileStats will have to pay Syntech/MINDEF S$580,000 for their legal fees.
If one were to read the transcripts of the hearing, it can be said to be clear who knew what the design was about and who had a case. Read the transcripts here and here.
MINDEF claims that patent was void all along
MINDEF in its media statements regarding the claims by Dr Ting, had all along barked on the point that the Patent was incapable of being infringed since it was void all along, so the Ministry could not have “knowingly” infringed the Patent with the intention of applying subsequently to revoke it.
However, the defence ministry is sneaky in this presentation of “fact” as the patent was void only after legal counsels representing Syntech/MINDEF filed a court order to have the Patent void, following Dr Ting’s withdrawal from the case. So the claim of the Patent being void, was a retrospective “fact” presented to skew public opinion on the case.
MINDEF also fails to highlight the most damning evidence that Dr Ting had of MINDEF’s intention. Which was a letter from a letter from Syntech to MINDEF about the copyright issue.
“We noted your concern with regards to the possible infringement of their patent rights under their SG Publication Number 113446. Together with our legal advisors, we have studied their patent design as compared to our Medical Shelter design submitted under Tender Ref No. 7108105610. We have conclude that there is no infringement of their patent rights. Moreover, we have also concluded that their patent lacked novelty and/or inventive step… As such, it will be very difficult for them to defend their patent rights.”
If MINDEF held the view that the Patent was void or not valid since it was not innovative, then why the concern of copyright infringement? MINDEF has not since contested the authenticity of the above letter.
Government’s claims for the need to address “falsehoods” through POHA
While MINDEF and MinLaw claims that the Government should have the right to address “falsehoods” and false statement against the Government but it choose to ignore TOC’s enquiry which was sent on 15 January and subsequently published a rebutal on its cyberpioneer Facebook fanpage and its MINDEF website on 20 January.
The rebuttal was not sent to TOC and neither did it follow up with TOC’s enquiry till its letter of demand asking for the article to be removed or to be sued under the new POHA.
Of course, some would ask why not ask MINDEF for their comments earlier so that they can reply in the published story. We would be glad to have MINDEF comment on their response to TOC’s queries over the years and list down the number of response that they have given. As much as I can tell during my stint with TOC, not even once.
With that, MINDEF cannot claim that TOC did not reach out to have their version of the story published. And despite stonewalling TOC, the website also published the rebuttal made by MINDEF towards Dr Ting’s claims as well as featuring the update on the original story itself. This was noted by the Judges in their rulings.
The High Court judge, Judicial Commissioner, See Kee Oon wrote in his judgement on 9 December 2015,
“Another important reason why it would not be just and equitable in my view to grant the Attorney-General a s15 order is that The Online Citizen ahd already taken significant steps to point out to readers and viewers that the truth of Dr Ting’s comments was by no means beyond doubt. It is not disputed that although The Online Citizen did not concede that it had made any false statements, it not only published MINDEF’s Facebook statement in full but also provided a prominent link to MINDEF’s statement from the article containing Dr Ting’s video interview. Such efforts to present each party’s side of a story ought to be encouraged, and in my judgement they would be discouraged if s15 orders were made as a matter of course despite these efforts having been made. It is not immediately evident why “only a s15 (2) order would do” and why publication of MINDEF’s statement alone would be insufficient in the circumstances.”
While it is indeed a relief after two long years that Dr Ting and TOC have won the case against the Government on their ridiculous use of POHA but Dr Ting’s story of how he had to go through as an inventor and entrepreneur, remains a tragedy for the aspiration of Singapore to become an innovation hub. A double-tragedy, in fact, given that he was earlier appointed to the board of directors for the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) in April 2013. He has since stepped down in January 2014, after he withdrew his case against Mindef.
As per standard practice, we will be writing to MINDEF for their response in regards to the above statements and will include their reply when they respond.
If you are unfamiliar with what Dr Ting has alleged against MINDEF, watch the video below and skip the first 15 seconds.