Trademark tussle: Firm wins appeal against rival

Defendant not entitled to defence that it was using its 'own name', Court of Appeal rules

An event management company has won its case on appeal against a rival which had used a similar acronym for its trademark.

The Audience Motivation Company Asia, which is based in Singapore, had sued AMC Live Group China over the use of two marks with the words "amc live" and "amc AMC Group China", which were alleged to have infringed its own "amc!" mark.

AMC Live, incorporated here in 2012, is part of a group of companies that provides events and concert management services in China, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia and Hong Kong. It started in Chengdu in 2007 and is said to have organised concerts in China involving singers such as Jay Chou.

Audience Motivation, which has been operating for nearly 20 years and has eight offices in the region, manages marketing events including prominent corporate sales and media launches, as well as corporate roadshows. Some of its events include the launch of the Audi Centre (Singapore), the HP Global Influencer Summit in China and the Tiger (Beer) Roadshow in Thailand.

Audience Motivation had lost its case against AMC Live in the High Court last year, which led to its appeal before the Court of Appeal comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang.

The trademark of Singapore-based event management firm The Audience Motivation Company Asia.

The apex court agreed with the High Court that there was a clear trademark infringement under the Trade Marks Act.

However, even if this was so, the relevant law held that there would be no infringement if a person uses his own name, or the name of his place of business or that of his predecessor, provided the use is in accordance with honest practices in industrial or commercial matters.

The Court of Appeal's judgment last week focused on the "own name" issue, making it a benchmark case for this area of the law.

The two marks of AMC Live Group China that were alleged to have infringed The Audience Motivation Company Asia’s “amc!” mark.

Lawyers Dedar Singh Gill, Gabriel Ong and Michael Moey argued for Audience Motivation that the "own name" defence did not apply, while lawyers Max Ng, Amira Budiyano and Mitchel Chua countered that AMC Live's use of the "own name" defence was justified by evidence. The hearing was held last October.

The apex court ruled that AMC Live was not entitled to the "own name" defence, saying its use of "amc" did not follow "honest practices". Among other things, the court found no evident connection between "amc" and the Chengdu firm that first started the group. The court was not convinced that the name was an acronym for "A Music Company", as claimed by its group chief executive Leong Seng Chet.

The court also noted that the Chengdu firm had placed a job advertisement online as a Singapore company known as "amc" in 2010 well before it was incorporated in Singapore, at a time when Audience Motivation was the only Singapore firm going by the name "amc".

The Chengdu firm, in presenting itself as "amc", had organised corporate events for Singapore companies such as SilkAir in September 2009, in direct rivalry with similar services from Audience Motivation, said the court.

Separately, the court also held that the use of similar logos by AMC Live, on which the AMC Asia mark had built its goodwill, would lead a segment of the public to believe both were linked. The court further ordered damages payable by AMC Live to be assessed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2016, with the headline 'Trademark tussle: Firm wins appeal against rival'. Print Edition | Subscribe