American sports apparel giant Nike, which owns the firm making the iconic "Converse All Star" basketball shoes, has failed to stop a Penang-based company from using the "Classic Jazz Star" brand for its high-cut basketball shoes.
The David and Goliath battle is the first to be settled in the region, with applications by the Jazz Star owner pending in countries such as China, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Adjudicator Lee Li Choon of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore overruled all of Converse's objections and ruled that "Classic Jazz Star" could register as a trademark. In judgment grounds released on Wednesday, she said although there is some visual similarity between the two star devices in the competing marks, they are "aurally and conceptually different".
The "dissimilarity in the words of the two competing marks outweighs the visual similarity in the layout", Ms Lee added.
Southern Rubber Works had sought in 2007 to register its trademark. The move was opposed by Converse Inc, which had prior trademark registration and is now owned by All Star C.V., another Nike subsidiary.
Lawyer Ngoi Soon Hui, who represents Converse, argued that its product reputation goes beyond the United States and it is known for the star device in its mark.
Converse added that consumers have come to associate marks which have a star in a circle and words inside the circle element with goods by Converse.
But lawyers G. Radakrishnan and Gillian Tan countered that the fact that the Converse mark is a well-known mark "works against the likelihood of confusion".
Ms Lee also noted that there are several other valid marks in the trademark register which have a prominent star device.
She said that as consumers are used to seeing different forms of the star device in marks, their focus will not be on the star device but on the accompanying items, such as "Classic Jazz Star " or "Converse All Star" as in this case.
She added: "More importantly, in relation to footwear, it is to be said that they are not normally purchased on a whim or in a hurry.
"The moment the consumer picks up a pair of shoes bearing the application mark, it would immediately become apparent to him or her that the shoes are manufactured by the Jazz Star owner and not the owners of Converse."
There was no likelihood of confusion, said Ms Lee, who noted that the marketing, packaging and pricing of both brands are different.
The annual sale of goods sold in Singapore under the "Classic Jazz Star" brand is understood to be negligible.