This article is contributed by Mark Teng, Executive Director at That.Legal LLC. It was first published on the That.Legal Blog. That.Legal can help advance your intellectual property interest through legal processes.
In Singapore, many of us would be familiar with the concept of “chope”. Whether it is putting a packet of tissue paper on a hawker centre table to “chope” it before going to buy food, or spotting an empty table from afar only to see that it has already been “chope-d”, many of us would have experienced the power of “chope” before. Essentially, to “chope” a table means to reserve it for ourselves.
In the business world, to register a trade mark is somewhat like “chope-ing” a table. Registering a trade mark “chopes” it for your exclusive use. Just like how “chope-ing” a table gives us the assurance that we will have a place to eat our food, acquiring a registered trade mark can bring reassurance to you and protect your brand
What is a Trade Mark?
Simply put, trade marks are signs that you would use to distinguish your goods and services from others. Trade marks not only help consumers identify your business, it also helps them recognize that these goods and services bearing your trade mark comes from a unique source: you. Trade marks usually take the form of a logo or a name. Some well-known registered trade marks include McDonald’s®, Nike’s globally recognised ‘Swoosh’ design, and even our very own Singapore Airlines and DBS Bank. Some non-conventional trade marks have even been registered over slogans, shapes, sounds and smells.
We encourage you to register your trade mark without hesitation for a variety of reasons. The foundational basis for why it is important to protect your brand through registering your trade mark lies in its privilege of exclusivity.
Your brand value, from a cost approach, is the sum of your resources dedicated to brand positioning, your expenses towards advertising, your effort in promoting your company or your brand, your investment in salaries on public relations/sales/marketing personnel.
Registering a trade mark protects your brand, and your investment in your brand value – and it only costs a mere fraction of the value behind your brand.
Reason 1: To Secure Market Access
The foremost reason why any business must register a trade mark is to secure your exclusive right to use your brand.
Imagine a situation where you have conducted large scale publicity and marketing for your brand, painstakingly built a name, only to realise that someone else had already registered a similar trade mark to yours.
If your brand is similar, you may not be able to obtain trade mark registration. Even worse, you may find yourself in a peculiar legal situation where you may be infringing someone else’s trade mark by selling your own goods or services. While there are strategies to deal with these situations, prevention is always better (and much cheaper) than the cure.
If all else fails, you may have no choice but to change your trade mark, having to restart publicity all over again, letting your efforts and brand-building resources go to waste. The other business who has registered the trade mark may even get a free ride on your publicity efforts.
You can secure your rights with one simple step – registering your trade mark today!
A registered trade mark secures your right to use your brand by acting in law as a defence against any infringement action. Under Section 28(3) of the Trade Marks Act in Singapore, “a registered trade mark is not infringed by the use of another registered trade mark in relation to goods or services for which the latter is registered.” In other words, a registered trade mark in Singapore secures your access to the Singapore market in respect of the goods or services for which the trade mark is registered.
These days, it is common for Singaporean businesses to sell their products or services across borders. Overseas trade mark registrations become ever more important when your products and services leave our sunny shores. To prevent heartbreaking outcomes that we spend much of our waking hours helping our clients with, it always makes commercial sense to secure your right to sell in an overseas market before actually doing so.
Registering a trade mark in other countries grants you the right to access that market in the future. This way, you can focus on developing your business and expanding without the worry of being barred from doing so next time.
Reason 2: To Prevent Others from Free-riding on your Brand
The famous Oscar Wilde once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness,” and there is no truer statement when it comes down to registering a mark that is uniquely yours
Oftentimes, when you have something good, many recognise it and come to desire it. While counterfeit goods that attempt to pass off as your brand can be seen as a compliment, you may be forced to give up your trade mark if you are unable to prove that the trade mark is yours.
When you register a trade mark, you gain rights to exclusivity and brand protection. If someone else applies to register a similar trade mark in respect of similar goods and/or services to yours, the trade marks registry will usually prevent it from being registered.
Even if the application is not picked up by the trade marks registry, your registration gives you the right to oppose the application. With your registration, you can show that you are the owner of the original trade mark and prevent someone else from registering their similar mark.
With your registration, anyone who tries to sell goods and/or services under identical or similar trade marks (regardless of whether they apply to register it or not) is considered to be infringing on your exclusive rights to your trade mark. If this happens, you can bring an action in infringement against the infringer. This can prevent them from their continued use of the mark and in some cases, you may even be able to claim the profits that they made from their use of the mark.
Reason 3: To Generate the Rightful Perception that you are the Owner of your Brand
When doing business, a large amount of money is spent on sales, marketing, and building brand recognition. This shapes brand perception, which is what consumers believe your brand to be. Registering a trade mark can protect the investment you put into branding and in shaping your brand perception. With your registration, you can generate a rightful perception amongst the public on the authentic ownership of your brand.
Often, consumers’ buying behaviours are heavily influenced by their brand perception of the goods and services they buy and who owns the brand. For instance, Starbucks is able to charge significantly higher prices for coffee that you may well be able to get elsewhere at a lower price. Even for goods Starbucks sells outside of their stores, such as Nespresso machine compatible capsules in supermarkets, the price can often surpass that of Nespresso’s own or other companies’ capsules. This is because the public perceives these pods to be owned by Starbucks, associating these pods with Starbucks, even when they are not in a Starbucks store. Thus, they are more willing to pay a slightly higher price for Starbucks’ pods, even if the coffee itself may not be of a higher quality than other companies’ pods.
With your registration, you will be able to do the same with your brand. When you have built up your brand’s reputation, your trade mark can help the public associate your goods and services exclusively with your brand. The public will not wrongfully associate your goods and services with another brand and vice versa, allowing you to differentiate yourself from others.
As your trade mark garners recognition and consumers start to associate the quality of your goods and services with your brand, this will improve your brand’s reputation. You will then be able to expand your sales beyond your own stores or websites.
If others do pretend to be your brand and offer lower quality goods and services, misleading consumers to associate these lower quality goods and services with your brand, you can protect your brand by commencing an action in infringement against them.
Over time, as your business grows, you can safely expand without concerns about whether competitors can take a slice out of your pie, as long as you register your trade mark beforehand.
To secure your rights to use your brand, prevent others from free-riding on your brand, and to generate a rightful perception amongst the public on the rightful ownership of your brand, register your trade mark today!
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