• TM Registration

Can a common keyword be trademarked?


When making a trademark, it might occur to you that using common keywords or phrases may not be a good idea. This is simply because consumers can easily confuse your brand with other things if you use words that are ‘generic’ and too commonly used. The Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) will also most likely reject your application if you use words that are too common.  But what about Apple, Inc.? How can they get away with having a common word as their brand name? The simple answer is that it really just depends.


The Trademark Office

When you have your trademark registered, everything goes through the IPOS. Most of the time, if you do not have a strong argument for using a common keyword as a trademark, they will reject the application. This is because when you use generic words, you are preventing others from describing similar merchandise. This can be better understood with an example. Let’s say you plan to trademark the term “automobile”. Of course, this would not be allowed since other individuals and companies use the word for their products.


So how can you provide a strong argument?

If you really want to use a common keyword and you think having it trademarked can be justified, you need to highlight the context or use of your trademark. For example, you have a children’s toothpaste brand called “Whitee” and you plan to name a smaller version, “Whitee Apple”. It would be difficult for Apple Inc. to stop you from doing so since consumers won’t confuse your Apple kid’s toothpaste with the Apple electronic products.


If the keyword is not descriptive of the company

You could also argue that the word you plan to trademark is not generic to the products and services you provide. Think Shell the energy corporation and TIME magazine. The words shell and time are common but they are not at literally related to the services and products provided by the respective companies.

In summary, common keywords can be trademarked but the chances are quite slim. You have to be meticulous about the context and use of the trademark to be able to provide a strong argument to the Trademark Office. Given that, you might as well not do it anymore since there are more disadvantages. If the word eventually gets used by more and more people for other reasons, your brand may be overshadowed and forgotten. Plus, even if you trademark a common word, that won’t really stop others from still using the word in other contexts.