Chua Puay Kiang v Singapore Telecommunications Limited and Others

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeMPH Rubin J
Judgment Date02 January 1999
Neutral Citation[1999] SGHC 1
Citation[1999] SGHC 1
Defendant CounselMichael Hwang SC, Leonard Goh and Tan Hwee Meng (Allen & Gledhill)
Plaintiff CounselLim Chuen Ren and Leong Chee Wei (Cheong Hoh & Associates)
Published date19 September 2003
Docket NumberSuit No 2103 of 1993
Date02 January 1999
Subject MatterCopyright,Literary and artistic copyright,Copyright in conversion table, drawings and computer program,Whether there was substantial similarity,Whether plaintiff's 'form of expression' copied,Infringement

: The action herein concerns memo pagers and revolves around a drawing or a layout of a telephone keyboard (`the drawing`), an accompanying conversion table (`the table`) (see annexures A and B) and an ancillary computer program containing a series of instructions written in a programming language known as `BASIC`, to enable computers to recognise whatever signals generated by pressing the requisite push-buttons on the telephone keyboard and convert those signals into numbers and letters in the English alphabet, as envisaged in the table.

It was alleged by the plaintiff that the former Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (`TAS`) who were in the business of providing telecommunication facilities including paging services in Singapore and elsewhere had copied his works.
According to him, consequent upon the TAS displaying an interest in his system (the `Teletyper` system`) he demonstrated on 27 February 1988 to the TAS representatives, how his system could transmit alpha-numeric data to or through a pager by anyone using a push-button telephone. The court was told that until October 1988 the first defendants (successors of TAS since 1 April 1992) were only able to transmit through their pagers numbers and did not possess the know-how to transmit alphabetical information.

It would appear that on or about 11 February 1998, more than a fortnight before the demonstration, the plaintiff had apparently handed to the first defendants` representatives, a version of the drawing and the accompanying table.
The plaintiff alleged (paras 13 to 20 of the statement of claim) that in or about July 1989, TAS introduced and provided to telephone subscribers with Radio Memo Service (RMS) pagers, their alpha-numeric push-button input (API) service for text messages and in that process had infringed the plaintiff`s copyright in his drawing, table and the computer program and its function thereof in relation to the TAS`s alpha-numeric push-button input (API) service for text messages and their later skypager service. The plaintiff`s claim against the second defendants was for publishing the plaintiff`s drawing and table in the Singapore telephone directories in 1989 and the third defendants for printing the same.

In the event, all three defendants by their joint defence denied that there was any infringement of the plaintiff`s copyright.
As regards the meeting which took place on or about 27 February 1988 the first defendants whilst admitting that the plaintiff had demonstrated at the meeting how his system functioned and showed a table and a drawing which were different from the ones set out in the schedule to the statement of claim, denied that the source code or the object code of the plaintiff`s computer program were ever disclosed to the TAS. In particular they averred (para 14 of the defence) that the TAS and/or the first defendants had not copied nor reproduced the table, drawing or any substantial part thereof. They pleaded in the alternative that the API coding table of the TAS and/or the first defendants was produced wholly independently of the table and the drawing allegedly prepared by the plaintiff. They contended further that any similarity, if at all, between the API coding table of the TAS and/or the first defendants and the plaintiff`s table lay only in the idea underlying the two tables. As regards the computer program supporting the TAS`s API feature, the first defendants averred (para 17 of the defence) that it was designed, developed and integrated into the RMS software by TAS themselves.

As mentioned earlier, the contention of the plaintiff had been that he was the author and creator of the drawing, the table (1BA at p 55) as well as the computer program (1BA 21 to 23) and that the defendants had infringed the plaintiff`s copyright.
Insofar as is material the plaintiff`s evidence as appears from paras 4 to 49 of his affidavit of evidence-in-chief could be summarised as follows.

Following a casual conversation with a friend sometime in the middle of 1987 as respects shortcomings in the existing telex system, the plaintiff conceived an idea to use the telephone keyboard or keypad to transmit alphabetical messages to printers.
The problem, he thought, lay in designing a coding scheme and a telephone keypad layout with letters of the alphabet assigned to the various keys to allow them to be used to key in the desired letters.

In the course of his research, he understood that signals which emanated from the depressions of the telephone keyboard buttons are known as DTMF (Dual Tone Multiple Frequency) signals.
He then developed an idea of keying in alphabetical messages by using the telephone keypad and his idea was expressed in the table and drawing as appear in the annexure to the statement of claim. In the drawing, all the 26 letters of the English alphabet were systematically allocated to the respective numbered keys or buttons `1` to `9`. The bottom row of the telephone keypad comprising three keys were marked `[ast ]`, `0` and `[num ]` and were called base keys.

The table contained in the statement of claim was a coding scheme expressing the plaintiff`s methods method of keying in alphabetical and numerical messages to be sent through the telephone.
A letter could be keyed in by depressing two keys or buttons in sequence on the telephone keypad. In other words, a letter was keyed in by first pressing a base key (`[ast ]`, `0` or `[num ]`) and then pressing a `number key` in accordance with the coding in his table. A number could be keyed in by depressing the respective number key alone. However, due to the fact that the `0` key was a base key, the figure `0` was keyed in by depressing the `0` base key twice.

He claimed that his table and drawing were user-friendly in that the letters A to Z including the space function key were all assigned in orderly sequence on the numbered keys starting from the key numbered `1` so that the user could easily locate any particular letter to input.
It also enabled figures `1` to `9` to be keyed in directly by depressing the `1` to `9` buttons once, since letters A to Z could be generated only after pressing the base key first followed by the assigned letter key. Moreover, if a wrong base key was pressed, the error could be corrected by depressing the correct base key immediately, because depressing two different base keys would not result in any letter or numbers or generate any special function.

The plaintiff also developed his own DTMF decoder and put together the hardware which enabled him to use an ordinary push-button telephone to send alphabetical messages to be printed out at a printer.
The system required a hardware device called EPROM (Erasable (user) Programmable Read Only Memory) to convert DTMF signals into alphabet.

He named his invention `Teletyper` and submitted it on or about November 1987 to the organizers of `Inventime 88`.
On or about 8 December 1987, he met Mr Leong Yew Kay (Mr Leong) of the TAS who came to the plaintiff`s premises to view one of the plaintiff`s products known as Teleguard. During the meeting Mr Leong showed the plaintiff a memo pager which could display alphabetical messages in addition to numbers. Mr Leong then mentioned to the plaintiff that at that time it was still not possible to use an ordinary push-button telephone to key in the alphabet. Up to that point of time, push-button telephones could only input numbers whereas alphabetical messages could be sent only through telex machines or computers with a modem.

Having had the benefit of his research on the teletyper system, the plaintiff did further research to adapt his system to produce alphabetical messages in a memo pager to make the memo pagers more appealing to the public and therefore, saleable by facilitating users to key in alphabetical messages using an ordinary push-button telephone.

In or about January 1988, he finalised and reduced into writing the complete table and drawing similar to the one contained in the schedule to the statement of claim.
The table and drawing referred to also appeared in a book published by him in or about May 1988. The drawing appearing in the said book was however slightly different from the keypad layout presented at Inventime 88 competition. As a result, the `[ast ]` key currently stood for the `spell` function and the `[num ]` key now represented the `erase` function. These changes were made to his earlier keypad layout to suit the functions for memo pagers.

Also in or about January 1988, the plaintiff displayed his modified teletyper system adapted for the purposes of the memo pager to the judges of Inventime 88, where he was able to use an ordinary push-button telephone to key in letters which appeared on a memo pager.
His teletyper system as a result won the bronze award at Inventime 88.

After Inventime 88, the plaintiff invited Mr Leong to view his modified teletyper system and sometime in February 1988, he demonstrated his system to Mr Leong and one Mr Wee at the plaintiff`s showroom at Sim Lim Square and gave them copies of his table and drawing.
He was later invited by Mr Leong to give a demonstration of his teletyper system to the TAS officers on 27 February 1988. All those present at the meeting had a copy of the plaintiff`s table and drawing which was previously handed over to Mr Leong.

At the demonstration, he explained to those present how his teletyper method worked and sketched on a white-board, a diagram showing the inter-action between the telephone, the DTMF decoder, the personal computer, the radio message service (RMS) control centre and the memo pager.
The diagram or flowchart pertaining to his explanation (p 60 of his affidavit) appears as follows:

Note this: Graphic = flowchart1.tif

He demonstrated how his system worked by displaying a message containing text and numbers provided to him, on a memo pager, by using an ordinary push-button telephone to key in the message.
After explaining his table containing the...

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1 cases
  • Invenpro (M) Sdn Bhd v JCS Automation Pte Ltd
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 27 February 2014
    ...v Haw Par Brothers International Ltd [1993] 2 SLR (R) 620; [1993] 3 SLR 285 (refd) Chua Puay Kiang v Singapore Telecommunications Ltd [1999] 1 SLR (R) 1; [2000] 3 SLR 640 (refd) Coco v AN Clark (Engineers) Ltd [1969] RPC 41 (folld) De Maudsley v Palumbo [1996] FSR 447 (folld) Designers Guil......
1 books & journal articles
  • Intellectual Property Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2000, December 2000
    • 1 December 2000
    ...other. These principles were recently re-affirmed by the High Court in the case of Chua Puay Kiang v Singapore Telecommunications Limited[2000] 3 SLR 640. The plaintiff conceived the idea of using the telephone keyboard to transmit alphabetical messages to printers. He expressed the idea in......

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