Allen & Gledhill takes on Alan & Gledhil

Alan & Gledhil Debt Recovery registered its website earlier this month and started marketing its services online. The site now appears to have been taken down.
Alan & Gledhil Debt Recovery registered its website earlier this month and started marketing its services online. The site now appears to have been taken down. PHOTO: WWW.ALANANDGLEDHIL.COM

Law firm threatens legal action against debt collector over 'confusingly similar name'

What do a 115-year-old law firm and a two-month-old debt collecting business have in common?

Not much - apart from a deceptively similar name.

Which is why renowned law firm Allen & Gledhill LLP is taking issue with Alan & Gledhil Debt Recovery over the use of a "confusingly similar name".

The law firm has written to the debt collector to demand it change its name, a spokesman for Allen & Gledhill told The Straits Times.

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He said: "Our firm has no association with this company, its owners or management... We will not hesitate to pursue all necessary legal action to protect the name and goodwill of our firm."

Allen & Gledhill is one of the most prestigious law firms in Singapore, and counts among its alumni Law Minister K. Shanmugam and Attorney-General Lucien Wong.

Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) records show that Alan & Gledhil Debt Recovery was registered on May 30 with a paid-up capital of $5,000. Its sole owner and director is Mr Tan Wan Kiah, a Singaporean in his 40s.

NO LINK

Our firm has no association with this company, its owners or management... We will not hesitate to pursue all necessary legal action to protect the name and goodwill of our firm.

AN ALLEN & GLEDHILL SPOKESMAN, on Alan & Gledhil Debt Recovery.

NOT OUT TO CAUSE TROUBLE

Acra accepted (the registration of) the name... I am just a small fry. I have no intention of creating trouble.

MR TAN WAN KIAH, sole owner and director of Alan & Gledhil Debt Recovery.

The company registered its website earlier this month and started marketing its services online, claiming that it is the top debt collector in Singapore with 20 years' experience and a 99 per cent success rate.

The website appears to have been taken down. But an earlier version of the site and the company's Acra registration show that it operates from a seventh-storey office at Paya Lebar Square.

When The Straits Times visited the office on Monday, a travel agency specialising in arranging golfing holidays was operating there. A staff member at the travel agency, who would give his name only as Derek, said there was no debt collector there.

When contacted on the phone, Mr Tan said a friend "who owns the address" had allowed him to use it to register his company on a temporary basis. He declined to name his friend, saying he did not use the address for illegal activities and was not obliged to answer questions about it.

Asked about his company's name, Mr Tan said it was made up of two names. He said he is also known as Alan, while Gledhil is a "long-lost Australian friend" who is also a successful debt collector. He added that the firm was named in memory of his friend.

He also said he has heard of law firm Allen & Gledhill, but added that it is a different spelling from the name of his company.

"Acra accepted (the registration of) the name," he said.

Mr Tan also confirmed that he had received the letter from Allen & Gledhill last Friday and would be speaking to his lawyer. "I am just a small fry," he said. "I have no intention of creating trouble."

Lawyer Gilbert Leong, a senior partner at Dentons Rodyk & Davidson LLP, said "it is possible" that the debt collector's name "may create confusion in the minds of clients of Allen & Gledhill".

"The law of trademarks and passing off seeks to address such situations," he said.

He added that an aggrieved party can ask the other party to voluntarily stop using the similar-sounding name. Legal action could be taken if the request is not met.

Mr Andy Chan, president of the Credit Collection Association of Singapore, said Alan & Gledhil Debt Recovery is not a member of the association.

He declined to comment on whether the tussle between the law firm and debt collector affects the image of the debt-collection trade that the association represents.

"We encourage the community to seek out professional and competent credit-collection agencies that are members of the association," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2017, with the headline 'Allen & Gledhill takes on Alan & Gledhil'. Print Edition | Subscribe