It was win some, lose some for each side in a court showdown over the use of "Han" in Singapore's restaurant scene.
Well-known chain Han's Cafe failed in its bid to stop HAN Cuisine of Naniwa, a high-end Japanese restaurant, from using a similar name.
But the owners of HAN Cuisine also failed to have the court erase "Han's Cafe" as a registered trademark, despite arguing that Han is a common surname here.
Judicial Commissioner George Wei disagreed with HAN, ruling that a name or part of it can be recognised as a trade mark.
"The fact that Han is a surname does not mean that, as a matter of principle, it must be treated as being devoid of a distinctive character" he said in 81-page judgment grounds released yesterday.
The judge accepted that Han seemed a fairly common surname in China, Korea and Japan and that it was, taken on its own, not distinct enough to satisfy trade mark registration rules.
But the unique style and font used by the chain, including its framed outline, were enough to make it sufficiently unique.
He also found that Han's was a local brand which has grown familiar to many Singaporeans since being founded in 1980.
Han's Cafe owners had alleged that HAN Cuisine of Naniwa, which opened in June 2012 at Odeon Towers had infringed its trademark and passed off its business as part of Han's Cafe's.
HAN Cuisine, owned by home-grown Gusttimo World, which also runs the Pinch catering service, offers traditional Osaka-based Naniwa cuisine and its specialities include meat and vegetable skewers.
Lawyer Mark Goh argued for Han's Cafe that the Japanese restaurant's name was visually, phonetically and conceptually similar to its own trademark.
But HAN's lawyer Suresh Damodara disputed this, saying the cuisine and character of both restaurants were vastly different.
Han's Cafe is a self-service, low cost, Hainanese Western restaurant, while HAN Cuisine is a full-service fine dining Japanese restaurant which also serves champagne and other high-end liquor, he said.
The judge ruled that the HAN sign needed to be considered "in its entirety", and that included the addition of "Cuisine of Naniwa" and the Japanese-style circle around the words.
When treated as a whole, the the similarity between the names was marginal. There was also no likelihood of people confusing the two brands.
The judge said that the average consumer who approached the HAN Cuisine restaurant and observed the HAN sign applied at various positions in and around the restaurant, "would be disabused of any notion that there is an economic connection" between Han's Cafe's goods and services and those of HAN Cuisine.
This article was first published on Feb 13, 2015.
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