What is a Trademark? A Guide for Beginners

In Singapore, a trade mark is defined as a “sign” which is capable of graphical representation which is used by a trader to indicate a connection in the course of trade between himself and particular goods and services.

For instance, nobody in the computer industry is allowed to use the name “Apple” as a way of identifying themselves – except for Apple Computers, Inc. The relevant authority for registration of trademarks in Singapore is the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS), which is a statutory board under the Ministry of Law.

This guide provides a general introduction to the concept of a trademark and its benefits.

What is a trademark?

The primary function of a trade mark is to distinguish the goods or services or services provided by the trader from those provided by other traders. A trade mark is therefore an important element of any business as it not only identifies a trader it also communicates to consumers that the goods or services bearing the mark come from a unique source, distinguishable from all the other sources for those goods or services.

Often the term trademark is used to refer to both trade marks and service marks. The trade mark vs service mark distinction is really quite small, and these marks are essentially the same thing. The difference is that a trade mark promotes goods or products, whereas a service mark promotes services. It appears to be common usage to refer to service marks as either trademarks or service marks. However, the reverse is not true; and you cannot refer to a mark affixed to goods as a service mark.

® and ™ are common symbols associated with trade marks. ® indicates that the mark is a registered trade mark and hence protected under the trade mark law. ™ is just a symbol used to indicate that the mark is being used by the company as a trade mark. It does not denote that the mark is registered nor protected under the trade mark law. There is no requirement that you use any of the symbols, however there are two important advantages to using them. First, the symbols provide notice to the world that you are claiming the symbols as trade marks, and this will deter others from attempting to use the name for their own business.

The words “trademark” “copyright” and “patent” are often used interchangeably and incorrectly. Trademarks, copyrights and patents are all different forms of intangible property that can be bought and sold, licensed, or otherwise exploited for commercial gain. They each, however, protect completely different interests.

Patents protect new inventions, discoveries and designs, whereas copyrights protect original works of authorship such as paintings, computer programs, sculpture and architectural designs. Trade marks do not protect creation or inventiveness at all. In fact, a trade marks can be acquired with no creative or innovative input from the owner whatsoever. For instance, when the public spontaneously began referring to “Coca Cola” as “Coke”, the new term became a source identifier for the product, and thus automatically a trade mark.

Why register a trademark?

Although it is not mandatory to register a trademark in order to use it, a trade mark registration adds great value to a business. The goodwill and reputation of a business can be reduced or tarnished if others try to misrepresent their own goods and services as yours by adopting a brand which is similar or identical to your business. Some of the key benefits of registering a trademark include:

  • The trade mark owner has the right to prevent others from using a similar or identical mark without his permission once the trade mark is registered.
  • Generates a rightful perception among public about the authentic ownership and quality of the product.
  • Prevents others to copy and use the trademark as the owner of a registered trademark can sue and collect damages from organizations that infringe upon the trademark.
  • A trademark registration decreases the likelihood of another party claiming that your trademark infringes upon their trademark.
  • Gives owner the right to use ® symbol.
  • It provides due warning to interested parties who wish to file a similar or identical trade mark since the Singapore trademark office will refuse to register any confusingly similar marks. In addition, your mark will appear on the local Trade Marks Register when businesses contemplate adopting a mark that is similar to yours.

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