Do I need to register a trademark in Singapore?

Last updated on June 14, 2011

A trademark is a brand name that you can register to protect yourself from competitors who may try to pass off their goods as yours. The owner of a trademark has the exclusive right to use the mark, and can stop competitors from doing so. They can license their trademark and sell it to others for use in a franchise, sell it outright during a company acquisition, or use it to raise equity. They may also be able to claim compensation if competitors infringe on their trademark.

The owners of an unregistered trademark may use the symbol ™, or trademark symbol, to indicate their ownership. The registered sign, or ® sign, can only be used by registered owners of the trademark. According to IPOS, a trademark can be “any letter, word, name, signature, numeral, device, brand, heading, label, ticket, shape, colour, aspect of packaging or a combination of these”.

However, it is not compulsory to register a trademark and an unregistered brand name can also be protected with the common law remedy of “passing off”. However, such a remedy requires the owner to prove his reputation and goodwill associated with the mark. In contrast, registration of the trademark is proof in itself, of the ownership of the trademark.

In addition, violation of a registered trademark is a criminal offence.  Under the Trade Marks Act, counterfeiting trademarks, and importing or selling counterfeit goods, are offences punishable by fines or jail terms. If you find any such infringements of your trademark, you can make a police report at the police station of the area where the offender operates. This is more likely to succeed if you are a registered owner of the trademark. The police may obtain a Search and Seizure Warrant, enabling them to enter the offender’s premises to seize any imitation goods. Depending on evidence procured, formal charges may then be pressed.

Furthermore, there is the common law remedy of “passing off”, available as a civil proceeding. It allows owners of both registered and unregistered trademarks to sue. For both registered and unregistered trademarks, a successful civil action may allow for an injunction to stop the infringement, an account of ill-gotten profits to be given to the owner of the trademark, or compensation.

Registering a trademark grants greater protection against competitors, by giving the owner exclusive rights, provides clear proof of ownership, and prevents unauthorised use of the mark.