The British-based Scotch Whisky Association failed to block an application by Japanese corporate giant Isetan Mitsukoshi to register the trademark "Isetan Tartan" here in relation to goods such as whiskies.
A trademarks registrar of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, in hearing the case, acknowledged that "Scotch whisky" is a geographical indication - a sign that a product has a specific place of origin and is made to a certain quality, based on factors due to that origin, such as the ingredients used.
However, said principal assistant registrar of trademarks Tan Mei Lin, a key issue is whether "tartan" is also a geographical indication designating whiskies from Scotland.
If so, then it would be entitled to protection under the Geographical Indications Act, she said in decision grounds issued last week.
The association represents a group of leading distillers, blenders and exporters of Scotch whisky committed to protecting their trade worldwide.
It argued through lawyer Aaron Thng that "the tartan is an iconic symbol of Scotland and can function as a geographical indication", among other things.
Isetan Mitsukoshi is a leading corporate group in Japan's retail industry and has six retail stores in Singapore. Represented by lawyers Yvonne Tang and Jaswin Kaur Khosa, the company applied to register the trademark, using the words "Isetan Tartan" with no symbol or design representative of Scotland in it.
Ms Tan found that the word "tartan" is not synonymous with Scotland and tartan patterns are not used exclusively by the Scots.
The association failed in its opposition on all grounds.
Ms Tan held that among other things, the relevant issue is not whether "tartan" can or cannot function as a geographical indication, but whether it is a geographical indication.
Geographical indications identify goods with a given quality, reputation or other characteristic attributable to their origin, she said.
There was no evidence that "tartan" is used to identify whiskies and no evidence to show what characteristics "tartan" whiskies possess, said Ms Tan.
"As for the use of tartan patterns and/or the word 'tartan' on labels and brand names, they are for the purpose of identifying the whisky distillery and not for the purpose of identifying the product. In order to function as a geographical indication, the sign must identify a product," she added.
Ms Tan dismissed the objections and allowed Isetan's application to register the trademark.