A Beginner’s Guide to Trademarks
A trademark is a sign to distinguish your business’ goods or services from other traders and businesses. It can be presented in many forms, including letters, words, names, signatures, images, brand names, shapes, colours, or any combination of these. Just think of Nike’s brand name, logo/symbol (the “swish”), slogan/phrase (“Just Do It”), or product name (such as “Air Jordans”).
Trademarks should not be confused with copyright, brand name, etc. They refer specifically to the graphic representation or image that your business can be said to own. You may own the trademark of your product or service’s unique name, but this does not constitute a copyright or patent for its idea/design. Conversely, ideas, designs and creative works are not trademarks, though you may own the copyrights or patents for them. A business name registration does not constitute a trademark, unless it is registered locally as a trademark.
Registering a trademark in a country will allow you its exclusive use for 10 years in that country. It can be further renewed indefinitely every 10 years, as long as it is in active use. Registering a trademark allows you to control its use. For instance, other competitors would be barred from using it, and similar trademarks would be prevented from being registered locally. Do note that the rights surrounding registered trademarks only apply to where it is registered and does not automatically extend to other countries.
Examples of trademarks
One example is the term “Frappucino”, which is widely associated with a type of drink from Starbucks. Starbucks registered this trademark and has the exclusive right to its use (as long as it is in active use). You may have noticed that many other cafes and restaurants (such as McDonalds and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf) sell similar beverages, but call them “frappes” instead, since the term is not a registered trademark.
Another example is Burger King’s expansion into Australia. “Burger King” had already been trademarked by a food shop in Adelaide, preventing the fast-food chain from using that name. Hence, Burger King in Australia goes by “Hungry Jack’s”, an alternative name which itself is a variation of a known pancake-mix brand “Hungry Jack”.
## Registering trademarks
You do not need to register a trademark, but registration will help your business’ legal position in the event of any legal dispute. It is the trademark owner’s responsibility to protect their trademark against infringement. For instance, if a competitor infringed on your trademark for a long period without being stopped (five years, for example), a court or judge could deem that the trademark’s owner had consented to its use. Typically, a registered trademark is denoted with the symbol ®, whereas an unregistered trademark is denoted with the symbol ™.
Not everything can be registered as a trademark. Certain components, such as descriptions (e.g. “best”, “cheap”, “dozen”), deceptive marks, confusing marks (sufficiently similar to other trademarks for similar goods), or marks that are “common to the trade” cannot be trademarked to avoid confusion or limiting the creativity of others.
In Singapore, trademarks are registered with the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, or IPOS. Trademarks are also governed by law, specifically under the Trade Marks Act and Trade Marks Rules. IPOS provides a list of accessible guides for more information on trademarks in Singapore.
|Government of Singapore. “IPOS
||Trade Marks”. Intellectual Property Office of Singapore. Accessed 2 June 2022,
Milstead, Ember. “Trademarks: How Starbucks Claimed the Frappuccino”. The Law of the Land. Published 7 February 2020,
Tardi, Carla. “Trademark”. Investopedia. Updated 23 March 2022,