The act of copying students’ ideas “wholesale” on the part of “seemingly reputable companies” such as Singapore Post Ltd (SingPost) reflects “the pathetic state of innovation” in Singapore, said a student of Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).
In a post on LinkedIn, Neo Tat Theng Jerry, who is currently pursuing an undergraduate Engineering degree specialising in Product Development and a postgraduate degree in Technology Entrepreneurship, on Thu (26 Sep) posted a slideshow of his team’s pitch deck and prototype for public viewing, which he alleged were copied by SingPost after their collaboration.
Neo also posted a screenshot of his WhatsApp conversation with “Ngiam”, who the former referred to as the “VP” of SingPost regarding the collaboration, in which “Ngiam” appears to have told Neo that a “joint project” – an official one as proposed by Neo – will not be necessary as SingPost’s “requirements” are “different” from those of Neo’s team:
A search by TOC on LinkedIn, while not necessarily conclusive, found an individual named Ngiam Kai Hee, who – based on the limited information available – is currently serving as an assistant Vice President at SingPost:
Referring to an article published by TODAY, as seen in the screenshot posted by Neo below, he also said that he “was fine when the news came out and they [SingPost] did not credit us”.
“I told my team that we have proven ourselves as innovators. But when I saw #CNA’s news that they claimed to be world’s first… oh boy..” Neo added, in reference to a video uploaded by CNA the day after the TODAY article was published, as seen in the screenshot by Neo below.
Neo said that such practices of poaching students’ ideas is the reason “why Singaporeans are risk averse and not willing to venture”.
“This is exactly why the local startup scene is not blooming,” he added.
Several LinkedIn users were shocked by Neo’s account of the story, with most of the comments criticising SingPost’s alleged failure to credit Neo’s team for coming up with the original prototype:
Several other users said that the “poaching” of ideas and concepts is a common occurrence in the world of technological innovation, and suggested Neo to implement such ideas and concepts through his own business strategy:
A few other users raised the possibility of pursuing legal means to obtain the appropriate recognition from SingPost:
One commenter opined that Neo’s team should have channelled their energies into ideas with “a trade secret component that can’t be easily copied”:
TOC has reached out to SingPost for comments.
Update as of 12:25 pm, 27 Sep: A SingPost spokesperson told TOC in response to queries that the company is “aware of claims made by SUTD student Jerry Neo that the design of the smart letterbox we unveiled on Tuesday was plagiarised from his school project”, and said that such claims are “untrue”.
“SingPost had already commenced work on developing a prototype of the smart letterbox in January 2019, a month before Mr Neo and his group first approached us in February 2019, asking SingPost to assist with their school project entitled “letters ATM machine”.
“SingPost informed Mr Neo and his group then that we were working on a similar project but were unable to reveal more due to a non-disclosure agreement with our prototype developer, who had already come up with a preliminary smart letterbox design. However, SingPost nevertheless hosted Mr Neo and his group to a tour of our sortation and mail processing facility.
“The design and operation of the letterbox Mr Neo developed is markedly different from the one SingPost unveiled on Tuesday. Key differences include the sortation and storage process which does not use a mechanical arm, the incorporation of tracking capabilities with the data matrix, a fail-safe put-to-light mechanism and the ability to deliver multiple letters to the same storage unit simultaneously.
“SingPost would like to emphasise that Mr Neo’s design was never used in our iteration process or shared with our prototype vendor. The postal engineering staff whom Mr Neo’s group consulted was also not involved in the designing of the smart letterbox. In fact, despite exchanges over text, SingPost did not receive nor do we possess Mr Neo’s designs.
“That said, we could have done better in our communications with Mr Neo and his team to avoid this misunderstanding. We are arranging a meeting later today with Mr Neo, his group members as well as the professors overseeing his project so we can clear this up,” added the spokesperson.