Inventor says HDB infringed patent for clothes-drying rack

SINGAPORE — A 54-year-old inventor is suing the Housing and Development Board (HDB) for infringing his patent for a clothes-drying rack, but the statutory board rejects the claim and is seeking to revoke the patent granted to him in 2004.

Mr Yiap Hang Boon, who set up a company that has since closed down called Sunpole Engineering and Trading, is claiming that the external clothes-drying racks of some HDB flats in Toa Payoh Central, Queenstown and Sengkang have infringed his patent.

But the HDB is seeking to hang his case out to dry. Its lawyers, Mr Darrell Low and Ms May Tan from Yusarn Audrey, will argue that the racks were the result of the HDB’s own efforts in researching and reviewing racks that were available around 2000.

Mr Yiap had filed the patent in question in February 2003, almost one-and-a-half years after the HDB had implemented an external clothes-drying system made up of a stainless steel frame with four poles fixed at an incline, according to the HDB.

The system was the result of the HDB’s workflow-improvement projects team reviewing the clothes-drying system from October 2000 to address safety concerns over the use of bamboo poles to dry laundry, its lawyers will say.

The HDB is also arguing that some of Mr Yiap’s claims have exceeded the six years that the law allows for legal action to be taken. Mr Yiap told the court yesterday he first noticed flats in Toa Payoh Central featuring the alleged patent-infringing racks in 2005.

Mr Yiap, who is jobless, first wrote to the HDB about an invention — a different clothes-drying rack design he had also patented — in February 2001, but it replied in detail a few months later that the invention was unsuitable.

He first mentioned possible patent infringement in 2006. The court heard he contacted the HDB contractor that manufactured its clothes-drying racks, as well as other parties, before filing his lawsuit in March last year. Under Mr Low’s cross-examination, Mr Yiap also said he had previously been advised he had “no legal case” to pursue.

Mr Yiap, who is not represented by a lawyer, appeared to have difficulty conveying his points yesterday.

Justice Chan Seng Onn interjected during his opening statement, saying he could not understand the latter’s “mumbo jumbo”. The judge also sought visuals for a clearer idea of the alleged infringements.

The HDB is expected to call three witnesses to give evidence — two of its deputy directors who were involved in the design and review of the external clothes-drying racks, as well as an expert witness who is a civil engineer.

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