• Foreign Languages for TM

Can we trademark of any foreign language word in Singapore?


A trademark is a sign that should be capable of distinguishing the goods and/or services dealt with or provided in the trade from others. This means that you cannot trademark just about any word if it cannot be graphically represented so that it is self-contained, intelligible, and easily accessible. For example, the English word “restaurant” and its equivalent translations cannot be trademarked because they are for common use. They do not fulfill the requirements of a trademark such as distinct, unambiguous, objective, and unequivocal. The word is just a description of the general trade of food and beverage but not your brand.

The best example of this is the rebranding of Grabtaxi to Grab when they expanded their services not just to taxi booking but carpooling, delivery, and private cars. While the English word “grab” itself is for common use, the brand “Grab” can be distinguished because the logo encompasses the old and new services they render. In short, the public will know immediately what the brand stands for just by the sign alone.


Non-English Words

If the company trademark contains a non-English word, your application must contain a transliteration into English. This rule is based on rule 20 of Trade Marks Rules. The translation itself must have supporting documents from a dictionary, translation site or a translator.

If the foreign language is the exact translation of the local name and it is not a common word, it will still need a trademark if you want to apply for an international trademark protection. If the trademark is the brand that your company will use regardless of the language of your target customers, then it can be trademarked as long as it does not violate any of the following conditions for coming up with a trademark:

  • Descriptive trademarks
  • Geographical names
  • Trademarks contrary to morality and public policy
  • Names of famous buildings, people, and others
  • Marks that bear flags, armorial bearings, state emblems, official signs, and hallmarks
  • Similar abbreviations of trademarks

The listed conditions are all grounds for refusal of trademark registration. Moreover, the Paris Convention has a list of marks that are to be protected including the following:

  • Emblems of convention countries such as the flags, armorial bearings, state emblem, sign or hallmark, or any imitations of such.
  • Emblems of international organizations such as flags, emblems, armorial bearings, abbreviations, names, and any imitations of such.

There are other national legislations that also protects signs such as the Geneva Conventions Act like the Red Cross. These include the red crescent, red cross, red crystal, red lion and sun, and the words “Geneva Cross” and “Red Cross.” Additionally, you also need to be mindful of the international non-proprietary names (INN) for pharmaceutical substances and active ingredients. You cannot trademark those words and symbols used to identify generic names for medication for example.