Using Trademarks as your Competitive Advantage

By P. Kandiah

Trademarks indicate the source of the product or service to a customer. That is the primary role of a trademark. However, trademarks have come to play a very important role in today’s business world. How is a manufacturer of products to attract the attention of a customer whose attention is drawn by hundreds of similar products that he faces everyday? Just imagine that you are manufacturing a special formulation of body lotion or shampoo. In the supermarket shelves, there are dozens of brands of lotions and shampoos. What makes the customers choose your product? Is it the price, the packaging, the quality of the product or some other factor? No doubt all these factors play a role in the selection process but the brand (trademark) plays a vital role, arguably the most important role.

The manufacturer or service provider has to select a trademark for his product or service. Ideally a trademark should be distinctive, easy to recall by customers, easy to pronounce and should not be descriptive of the product or service to which the trademark is associated. In practice, manufacturers and service providers tend to choose trademarks that are descriptive of their product or service. For example, Orenjus for orange juice, David’s Chicken Rice for a chicken rice shop, Spring Water for mineral water, and so on. This tendency is completely understandable as the manufacturer or service provider prefers to have customers know what their product or service is about.

Unfortunately, although such descriptive marks assist the manufacturer or service provider on the marketing front, such marks are difficult to register and other traders (competitors) are likely to use similar marks to refer to their business, thus diverting your customers to their business.

A mark should preferably be invented – a word that does not exist in the dictionary. Take for instance, the mark ESSO® for petroleum, SONY® for cameras and KODAK® for imaging and photography supplies. These marks are meaningless marks, coined by the manufacturers of the products. The public would not have known what ESSO, SONY and KODAK products were in the beginning when the products were first launched. In such cases, the manufacturer can adopt a tagline to describe the products. For example, the mark ESSO® is accompanied by the tagline “Put a tiger in your tank”. The tagline immediately informs the public that the product the mark ESSO® applies to is petrol. Such invented words are easy to register as a trademark, reduces the cost of registration and makes it easier for you to take action against anyone who adopts your trademark for his or her products or services. Using invented words together with a tagline is a good approach to “educate” your customers on what products or services the trademark refers to.

Trademarks are not only used on manufactured goods but also on natural products such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, meat and such. Malaysians are familiar with branded oranges, apples and grapes, but are they familiar with branded local fruits? Are any of the Malaysian tropical fruits trademarked? Can you recall any brand? Is there a known Malaysian brand for rambutans, durians or mangosteens? A clever farmer or farmer’s organisation would do well to trademark their products. This enables customers to ask for a particular brand of fruits, just like asking for SUNKIST® oranges or WASHINGTON® apples. Established trademarks assure the customer of consistency in the quality of the product during repeat purchases at different times and at different outlets. This is why established trademarks are referred to as “trustmarks” as it has garnered the trust of customers. But to maintain the trust, the manufacturer has to ensure that the quality of the product is maintained at all times so that a customer comes to accept or trust the branded goods through repeated purchase of the product.

For a customer to feel proud of the product he is purchasing, the product must be attractively and distinctively packed. It is advisable to engage professional design consultants to assist with the design of the packaging and label put on the product or the container in which the product is contained. Just compare how potato chips are packaged and how home-made tapioca chips are packaged. It pays to have professionally designed packaging. If the packaging is original, it would enjoy copyright protection as well. As to what is copyright, how SMEs use copyright in their businesses and what can be protected under copyright law, that will be a topic for discussion on another day.

Note: The trademarks in this article belong to their respective owners. KASS does not claim any proprietary right whatsoever; they are used solely for educational purposes.

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