How to Check for Registered Trade Marks in Singapore
Names, logos or colours that are used to identify a brand or business are examples of trade marks. In Singapore, an owner who registers his/her trade mark with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) enjoys an exclusive right to use the mark.
Why Should You Do a Trade Mark Search?
All registered trade marks can be found on the IPOS Digital Hub website.
You should conduct a trade mark search if you are interested in:
- Registering your trade mark with IPOS; or
- Adopting a particular trade mark for your brand or business.
Registering a trade mark with IPOS
Under the Trade Marks Act, a trade mark that conflicts with an earlier trade mark will not be accepted for registration. This means that your trade mark cannot be registered if it is considered identical or similar to existing trade marks on the register.
IPOS conducts its own trade mark search when it assesses the suitability of your trade mark for registration.
To ensure that your application to register your trade mark is successful, you should carry out your own trade mark search prior to submitting an application.
If the search alerts you to existing trade marks that are identical or similar to your own, you should revise your proposed trade mark. Taking this extra step of due diligence can save you the expense and time costs of submitting a second application if your first application is rejected.
Adopting a particular trade mark for your brand or business
However, before doing so, you should conduct a trade mark search to ensure that it does not infringe an earlier trade mark on the register.
If you use an infringing mark for your brand or business, the registered trade mark owner, who enjoys an exclusive right to use that mark, can sue you for trade mark infringement. This would disrupt your business development plans as you will likely have to come up with a new brand identity, repackage and relabel your products, and incur significant expenses in resolving the dispute.
How to Do a Trade Mark Search in Singapore
What should you look out for?
The aim of a trade mark search is to find out if your proposed trade mark conflicts with or infringes on existing trade marks on the register. A trademark may be a conflicting or infringing one if it is:
- Identical or similar to an existing trade mark; and
- Identical or similar to the goods and services that an existing trade mark is registered under.
Identical or similar to the existing trade mark
The marks are similar if they are visually, aurally or conceptually similar. For example, the words “nutello” and “nutella” are considered aurally and visually similar because they share the same dominant root word (“nut”) and share almost all the same letters.
In another example, “Lady Rose” and “Rose Lady” are considered conceptually similar because they both remind us of something feminine and floral.
Identical or similar goods and services
A trade mark is registered only for use in respect of specific goods and services, which are classified according to the International Classification of Goods and Services (ICGS).
Hence, even if your proposed trade mark is similar to an existing trade mark, it will not be considered a conflicting or infringing mark if you do not plan to use it for identical or similar goods and services.
You should therefore take note of whether the registered trade mark is registered for the goods and services that you wish to use your proposed trade mark for.
However, it is important to note that the similarity of the goods and services is not solely determined by the ICGS classification. The ICGS classification is merely a starting point. Goods and services in the same classification are likely to be similar, but this is not always the case.
For example, Class 18 of the ICGS classification includes both leather products as well as umbrellas. However, these two items are clearly different in their characteristics and uses. Hence, if an umbrella manufacturer registers a trade mark under Class 18, a leather bag brand may still be able to use a similar trade mark for their leather products.
Using the IPOS search tool to search for registered trade marks
You can search for registered trade marks using the IPOS Digital Hub website. It has 4 options:
- Basic Search. This search lets you search for trademarks or patents using one search criterion at a time. If you want to use multiple search criteria, you should do an Advanced Search instead. Examples of search criterion are:
- Trademark or patent application number
- Registrant name
- Trademark description
- Title of patent invention
- Advanced Search. This helps you search for trademarks and patents using multiple search criteria. You can also use wildcard characters (such as the hex and question mark) and Boolean operators to narrow your search.
- Trademark Similar Mark Search. This is specifically for searching for registered trademarks that look similar to other trademarks, in the sense that they have similar text and/or image(s). In doing so, you may upload images or type keywords to describe your trademark.
- Trademark Goods and Services Search. This helps users find the trade mark class number(s) that may apply to their goods and/or services. If you are checking for registered trademarks or patents, this search is probably not as relevant to you.
Engaging a Lawyer to Assist You With a Trade Mark Search
It is recommended that you engage a trade mark lawyer to assist you with your trade mark search. A comprehensive trade mark search will take significant time and effort as you will need to search for different variations of your intended trade mark.
Apart from assisting with the administratively-taxing nature of the search, a trade mark lawyer can also advise you on the strength of the similarity of your trade mark to an existing trade mark. This is crucial to the success of your trade mark registration application and can also avoid the risk of trade mark infringement in the course of your business.
Moreover, if you have plans to expand your business in the future, you may wish to register your trade mark for use overseas and protect it from infringement.
A trade mark lawyer can assist you with navigating the trade mark search portals of overseas jurisdictions. They can also advise you on the criteria for registration and infringement in each overseas jurisdiction that you intend to register your trade mark in.
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