Protecting your intellectual property through trademarks prompts a cautious assessment of what trademarking entails. Simply put, a trademark is essentially a registered mark which is composed of a unique name, set of words, symbol, device, or a combination of these factors. These marks are primarily used to identify and distinguish a company from the rest – of which includes the specific products and services they offer.
Trademark registration also allows commercial companies to protect their products and stop competitors from using and/or misusing the same products and services. More than just the need to protect your brand, registered trademarks help in instilling brand loyalty among avid customers and in shaping their perceptions regarding the services you offer.
What makes a good trademark?
If you ask this to any trademark attorney in Singapore, they are likely to urge you to come up with a distinct and unique name. It seems like the more exclusive your trademark sounds or appears like, the better it is at protecting your company – but that belief is entirely all up for debate, though.
Business owners often go with generic names initially, only to set their name into something more unique before they officially register trademark. Doing so makes them stand out from the rest of their competitors across the city-state. Hence, coming up with an effective trademark is crucial for any business endeavor.
In general, there are 5 types of brand names when it comes to trademarking:
Generic brand names encompass an entire group/class of products. This category is considerably the weakest; therefore, they cannot be legally trademarked in Singapore. Examples of this type with Singapore trademark registration would be words like: ‘Cold Beer’, ‘Smartphone’, or ‘Bread’. Even though they can’t be trademarked, you may still see these brand names on some commercial products.
These names are still effective, though. People tend to quickly associate them with the products and other commodities they need because they are simple and easy to remember. But because they are far too generic, these brand names cannot be used to register TM nor used exclusively by a single company.
A little step above the generic category is the descriptive brand names, which are still notably difficult to protect. They’re called descriptive because of the adjective/descriptor present before a generic word. You won’t have a hard time distinguishing generic names from descriptive ones. The presence of any descriptive word effectively kicks them up a notch than mere generic brand names.
Examples of descriptive trademarks include Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Holiday Inn – all of which has earned legal trademark protection. That means, corporate owners of these companies possess the right to prevent other establishments from copying their name or coming up with a brand name which is closely like theirs.
Suggestive brand names have greater chances of acquiring legal protection. Names such as Greyhound and Amazon are highly correlated with something else – thus they invoke the power of analogy. The word ‘greyhound’ generally refers to a certain dog breed, but in this case, it is a registered trademark for an intercity bus common carrier (Greyhound Lines, Inc.). Meanwhile, ‘Amazon’ is the name of a race of Greek female warriors, but the word is now trademarked for one of the biggest online shopping sites internationally.
Although they’re notably harder to market compared to other types of brand names, having suggestive marks make it easier to register trademark.
Perhaps one of the most interesting parts in trademark registration, the use of fanciful and unique names is also considered the easiest to protect. Using this category of brand names requires creativity and wittiness. Since they’re distinct, fun, and easily protected by the law – a lot of business start-ups opt to create or coin fanciful trademarks themselves.
This trend can be observed in the tech world, notably in brands such as Xerox (a global corporation which sells document solutions), Twitter (an online news and social networking service), and Google (a sought-after company specializing in Internet-related services and products).
The last category belongs to arbitrary brand names. These are names which appear to be generic, but they possess certain trademarkable traits because of the obvious way they’re used out of context. For instance, the global oil company Shell was able to trademark the name because the product and services they offer to the public are unrelated to ‘seashells’.
Another example would be “Apple” computers and smartphones. The tech giant gained trademark rights over the name because their business endeavor was not in line with selling produce. Obviously enough, not even a bit.
The process of trademark registration doesn’t just happen overnight. After you sign the documents, you need to give it time before the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore or other related government institutions review your application. Some cases take about 3-6 months of processing time, others even take up to years.
Companies who applied for generic and descriptive brand names were notably the ones who took time in waiting for their trademarks to be legally registered. The board must first ensure there’s no opposition from third parties and there’s no existing business which already uses the same name before they can bestow you the legal rights to protect your brand name.
To protect your brand efficiently, allot generous amount of time in brainstorming about potential trademark names. It is also encouraged to seek the assistance of trademark attorneys before you proceed on applying for your trademark to reduce any chances of errors and fines.