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 search portal.
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
The IPOS search tool can be used to search for registered trade marks, free of charge. It has 3 options:
- Fast Search: This generates the broadest results as it searches the entire IPOS database. However, it can result in an extremely time-consuming search as the results can pertain to areas that may not be relevant to you, such as patents and registered designs. For example, a search of the word “juice” generates over 390 pages of results.
- Simple Search: This allows you to specify that your search is specifically for the purpose of searching for “Trade Marks Similar Mark”, as opposed to “Patents Abstract and Specification” or “Design International Registrations”. You can also refine your search to results that satisfy 2 criteria – the class of the goods and services and the trade mark name. However, this still casts a rather wide ambit. Due to the extensiveness of the search results, it can take up to 1 hour for the results to be processed.
- Boolean Search: This function gives you the most flexibility in setting the parameters of your search. Like the “Simple Search”, it allows you to specify that your search is for “Trade Marks” only, and you are also able to narrow your search ambit by cross-referencing the results with the class of your intended goods and services. However, it provides the added function of narrowing your search to specific forms of trade marks, e.g. names, logos, images, or image text. You can also limit the search to a particular filing date period or search specifically for variants of your intended word mark by selecting various options such as transliteration, translation, Chinese characters or Phonetic equivalents.
The following steps will explain how the Simple Search and Boolean Search can be used to search for registered trade marks.
Step 1: Determine what goods or services you intend to use your trade mark for
First, you should determine which class of goods and services your intended trade mark will be used for. This information is needed when you proceed to search for identical or similar trade marks.
You can determine the class of your goods or services by consulting the ICGS classification available here, or by using the IPOS search tool.
To use the IPOS search tool to determine the class of your goods or services, you have to choose the “Simple Search” option. Under “Search Type,” click “Trade Marks Classification of Goods or Services”. Under the search criteria, type in words that are related to your goods or services.
For example, if you are planning to use the trade mark for a bag brand, type in “bag”. The search results will present an extensive list of bag-related products – choose the class that is most similar to what you have in mind.
Step 2: Search for identical or similar trade marks
For the most efficient and targeted search, it is recommended that you use the “Boolean Search” option instead of the other search options.
Please note that when searching for similar trade mark names, you should search for variations of the name which could make the name visually, aurally and conceptually similar to avoid possible infringements of existing trademarks. This includes names that are spelled differently but are meant to be pronounced in the same way.
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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