IPOPHL chief says SMEs should have ‘distinct’ trademarks

Micro, small, and medium enterprises (SMEs) should strive to inject novelty in their trademarks to avoid the risk of being called out for trademark infringement that can damage already-existing businesses.

IPOPH director-general Josephine R. Santiago

In a forum held recently, the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) director-general Josephine R. Santiago said part of the agency’s mission is “protecting and promoting yamang-isip (intellectual property) especially against those na mayayaman ang isip (creative) in skirting the law.”

The IPOPHL chief identified these methods of circumventing the law include slightly modifying already-registered, or otherwise established trademarks — changing one letter, or adjusting the color of a known trademark. These are then passed off by as one’s own.

A trademark serves the primary purpose of being a “source-identifier,” aiming to create that association between the quality of a good or service, to a particular source.

“Copycat marks” takes advantage of this function by being confusingly similar to the established trademark.

Individuals or businesses who make these copycat marks reduce the market share and impact the profitability of the established businesses. On the level of image-building, they may also damage the brand reputation of the business.

IPOPHL said it takes distinctiveness in trademark applications seriously, and is among the considerations in granting trademarks.

Trademark filings reached 32,542 filings, with trademark registrations at 23,571, in 2017.

While there’s a multitude of reasons why not all applications are registered, the agency said one common reason for rejection is for lack of distinctiveness.

The IPOPHL cannot register a mark identical with a registered mark (belonging to a different individual), or a mark with an earlier filing or priority date in the case that the two marks, with respect to:

(i) the same goods or services, or
(ii) Closely related goods or services, or
(iii) If it nearly resembles such a mark as to be likely to deceive or cause confusion;

“Let’s not be known as a copycat culture, let’s strive to be creative and innovative in our intellectual property,” Santiago added.

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