What is a trade mark?

A trade mark is your business identity. Businesses register their own trade marks to distinguish their own goods and services from others. Singapore observes the Nice Agreement which issues the International Classification of Goods and Services to classify trade mark registrations. The classification lists 34 different classes of goods and 11 classes of services that are used to register a trade mark.

Trade mark registrations are one of the activities allowed in the Enhanced Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) Scheme. We encourage all eligible businesses to maximize their competitive edge by leveraging on this scheme.

You can protect ownership and copyright to your identity or brand by registering it as a trade mark. This can comprise your company’s logo or signature. The period of the ownership of your trade mark can be indefinite so long as it is renewed every 10 years. Since a registered trade mark is your “property”, you can license or assign it to others.

What qualifies as a trade mark?

To qualify as a trade mark, the sign or symbol must be distinct. One should be able to distinguish your goods or services from similar ones of other businesses. Possible registered as a trademark include letters, words, names, signatures, labels, devices, tickets, shapes, colours or any combination of these elements.

Here are some common examples of marks that CANNOT be registered as a trade mark:

  • Marks that are descriptive (e.g. super, best, cheap, one dozen)
  • Marks that are common to your trade (ones that have become well accepted in relation to your trade and do not distinguish the goods or service you are offering)
  • Marks that could offend or promote immoral behaviour
  • Deceptive marks (ones that could misrepresent the nature, quality or geographical origin of the goods or services)
  • Marks that are identical to earlier marks
  • Marks that could cause confusion (similar or identical to an earlier mark and in relation to similar or identical goods or services provided by the owners of the earlier mark)
  • Marks that are identical or similar to Well Known Marks

Trade mark symbols

Once successfully registered as a trade mark, you are permitted to use the ® symbol next to your mark. Another common symbol associated with trade mark is − this denotes that the mark is being used by the company as their trade mark but it does not mean that the mark is registered or protected under the trade mark law.

Benefits of registering a trade mark

While it is not compulsory to register a trade mark in Singapore, the benefits of registering one are invaluable.

For a mark that is not registered, you can rely on your rights under common law (Common law generally refers to the law based on past decisions and general principles, serving as precedent or is applied to situations not covered by statutes) action of “passing off” to protect your mark against imitation or infringement. This remedy, however, requires you to firstly, prove that reputation or goodwill attaches to the goods and/or services you supply.

Secondly, you must demonstrate misrepresentation by a third party as regards the origin of those goods and/or services. And thirdly, you must be able to demonstrate that you have or you are likely to suffer damage by reason of a wrong impression having been created by the misrepresentation by that third party, in the minds of the relevant consumers. The requirement of proving reputation and goodwill may pose some problems where the business, or the use of your trade mark, has not been established for a substantial period of time.

If you register a trade mark in relation to your goods and/or services, you are effectively gaining a statutory monopoly of your mark. As such, if someone else uses your mark or one that’s similar, you may rely on your registration as proof or your right to the mark and sue for infringement.

A trade mark can add value to your business because it can be used to protect your market share, you can license it to third parties such as a franchisee or you can sell it outright for a specified value. Finally, you can also use a trade mark to help you to raise equity for the development of your business.