What is a Trademark? A Guide for Beginners

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A Beginner’s Guide To Trademarks in Singapore

A trade mark is defined in Singapore as a type of ‘sign’ capable of being represented graphically, used for the purposes of indicating a connection between the particular good or service it is affixed to and the trader. An example of this is the name ‘Apple’ used in connection to computers – Apple Computers, Inc is the only entity in the computer industry who may use the name ‘Apple’ as a way of identifying themselves. The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) – a statutory board established under the Ministry of Law – is the relevant authority for the registration and management of trademarks in Singapore.

This guide offers a general introduction to the concept and benefits of trademark registration.

What is a trademark and what does it do?

Distinguishing the goods or services provided by a given trader from those of their competitors is the primary function of a trade mark. This makes it an important element for any business, as apart from identifying a trader, it also communicates to consumers that the source of the marked goods or services is unique and distinguishable from all other sources providing similar goods or services.

Both trade marks and service marks are frequently referred to as ‘trademarks’. The distinction between the two is minimal, and they both serve an identical purpose. The key difference is that where a service mark is attached to services, a trade mark promotes products or goods. While it is common to refer to trademarks or service marks, the inverse is not true; trade marks – marks affixed to products or goods – are not referred to as service marks.

® and ™ are common symbols associated with trade marks. The ® symbol indicates that the mark has been registered and is protected under trade mark law. ™ is a non-enforceable symbol used to indicate that the trader recognises the mark as a trade mark; it does not denote that the mark is either registered or protected under trade mark law. No requirement exists that traders use any of these symbols, but traders should be aware of the advantages of using them. Most importantly, the symbols serve as a deterrent to competitors who may otherwise attempt to use the name for their own business by providing notice to the world that you claim the attached mark or symbol as a trade mark.

The terms ‘copyright’, ‘trademark’ and ‘patent’ are frequently used interchangeably and incorrectly. Each is a separate and distinct form of intangible property capable of being bought and sold, licensed and exploited for commercial gain in other ways. Each protects completely different interests.

Copyrights protect original works of authorship. This includes everything from sculpture, computer programs, paintings, architectural designs, drawings and more. Patents protect new inventions, designs and discoveries. Trade marks do not protect inventiveness or creation at all. Many companies have acquired trade marks with no creative or innovative input on their part; ‘Coke’ became a trade mark of The Coca-Cola Company when the public began spontaneously referring to their product ‘Coca-Cola’ under that name, making it a source identifier for the product and – therefore – a trade mark.

What are the advantages of registering a trademark?

While it is optional for a business to register a trademark to use it, choosing to register adds a great deal of value to a business. The goodwill and reputation of a business can be negatively affected or tarnished where other businesses misrepresent their own goods or services as carrying your name, by adopting a brand that is identical or substantially similar to your own. Key benefits of registration include:

  • The trader who owns the trade mark has the right to prevent other traders from using identical or similar marks without their permission upon registration of the trade mark.
  • Contributes to a perception of the company amongst the public about the authentic ownership, provenance and quality of the product.
  • Prevents efforts by competitors to copy and use the trademark, as owners of a registered trademark have the option of opening litigation against and potentially collecting damages from organisations that infringe upon their trademark.
  • Registering a trademark minimises the likelihood of a competitor claiming that your trademark infringes upon a trademark owned by them.
  • Gives the owner the right to attach the ® symbol to their mark.
  • Provides due warning to interested parties wishing to file a substantially similar or identical trade mark, as the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore will refuse registration of any confusingly similar marks. Your mark will appear on the local Trade Marks Register when other businesses contemplate adding a mark similar to yours.

To learn more about the process of registering a trademark in Singapore, please refer to the Singapore trademark registration procedure.