Soft launched in October 2016 in Singapore as a new mobile payment platform, Liquid Group has big plans. Its product, Liquid Pay represents a cloud-based platform that can run personalised mobile apps for banks and telcos, give retailers the opportunity to combine management of their own individual loyalty programmes with mobile payments and give consumers the convenience of payment, rewards and lifestyle services, all through the convenience of a single interoperable platform.
Liquid Group benefits from the support, ambition and experience of parent company Korvac. Established in 1999, Korvac first specialised in ‘back end’ payment processing before moving into point of sale (PoS) equipment, where its main customers were large retail chains, banks and software companies.
In 2013, Korvac took the bold decision to sell its entire hardware infrastructure business and move into software development. The company decided that that the future of payments would not be one that relied on capital-intensive specialist hardware terminals and physical cards, and opted instead to focus on mobile payments and software development.
The result is Liquid Group, which has already established offices and employed staff in Thailand and Malaysia as well as Singapore, to support its future expansion plans. It is already considering further growth outside ASEAN, prioritizing Australia, the US and Europe.
For the consumer, Liquid Pay features a proprietary software solution that allows a consumer to pick the payment option (or a combination of options) that provides the best discount or reward at the point of payment. Accordingly, this has been the focus for its patenting activity.
Liquid Pay regards its patent applications as being its key set of IP assets, and not just because Korvac already understands their importance based on past experience. As Emily explains, “differentiation is vital, especially when you’re likely to require future investment. Investors would generally want to know whether there is a sustainable competitive advantage to the technology that you have.”
Patenting is also important as a strategic tool for use with both customers and competitors, especially in the highly competitive fintech space.
“Once your solution is out there, you could soon have a hundred copycats. So protecting our IP is important.”
Given the intense global competition in the payment and fintech space, patenting a software solution for payment was never likely to be a straightforward process for Liquid Pay. As Emily diplomatically puts it, “it’s been a really interesting learning curve!”
Meeting the patenting system’s requirement for novelty when dealing in payment solutions in a crowded market, is not an easy thing for any company to achieve, let alone a start-up. Liquid Pay has been careful to put in place non-disclosure agreements when talking to potential partners from the start. Knowing the scope and limitations of existing platforms and technology as well as gathering IP intelligence in advance has been extremely important due to the litigation activity known to be a feature of this high-stakes market.
Based on the legal advice received, the company decided to start with a provisional filing in the US for its patent (to establish a priority date before it could be certain how extensive its application could be), and to replace this with a full international application within the prescribed time frame once freedom to operate searches had been completed.Liquid Group has since made the full application and its patent is pending approval.
Drafting the full description of the proprietary solution for purposes of the patent filing has been, as Emily puts it, “time consuming and expensive – it is tricky to ensure that you are not describing things too narrowly or too broadly”. Liquid Group has sought the help of a well-known IP specialist in Singapore to assist with its filings. It also helps that Liquid Group has a team of individuals with extensive experience in the payments space and who understand the intricacies of payment processing, how card schemes work and the technology today that can make payments more efficient. Its CEO, Jeremy Tan founded Korvac in 1999 and knows the payment ecosystem well. Liquid Group’s CTO, Matthew Quinlan, the ex-global CTO of VISA Inc., has over 25 years of experience in information technology.
While Liquid Pay is already marketing its technology as ‘patent pending’, it is keen to protect its name and brand as well. This has not proved to be straightforward though, as searches revealed at least ten other companies in relevant classes already using the word ‘Liquid’ as a trading name, including one payment company called Liquid based in Japan (though this specialises in biometrics, and does not trade in Singapore).
Since it was not possible to get protection for ‘Liquid’ or ‘Pay’ as word marks in isolation, a combined word and image mark was registered in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.