Parallel Imports - Singapore

Question 7
What is the stand in Singapore with regards to parallel imports?

Answer 7
Parallel imports is strictly the importation and sale of goods originating from the registered proprietor by a party who has no common law right to do so. In most circumstances, the parallel imports are imported and sold by third parties who have obtained the goods overseas.

As for the current stand which Singapore adopts when taking into consideration parallel importing matters, can be seen in a string of recent case law.

In Hawley & Hazel Chemical Co Pte Ltd v Szu Ming Trading Pte Ltd [2008], the defendant who was a distributor of Darkie toothpaste products in Singapore brought an action against the plaintiff who was the Singaporean manufacturer of the toothpaste in Singapore, for losses incurred from the competition arising from the parallel importation of genuine but cheaper Darkie toothpaste.

It was decided that the manufacturer was under no obligation to stop parallel imports of the products into Singapore. As such, it is almost impossible to curtail such imports, as they seem to trickle into the country.

Cases such as Public Prosecutor v Tan Lay Heong and Another [1996] emphasizes that although parallel imports may seem like a problem to trade mark owners and exclusive distributors or retailers, in Parliament’s eyes, they epitomize free trade.

The case of Acushnet Company v Metro Golf Manufacturing Sdn Bhd [2006] is a clear cut case of trade mark infringement. The mark TITLEIST belonged to the plaintiff and used in relation to golf clubs, golf balls and golfing accessories. Here, the defendant was caught with counterfeit golf items bearing the TITLESIT mark of the Applicant.

This case differs from a normal parallel import situation as the goods in contention were not goods which originated from an authorized manufacturer.

Thus, the current law in Singapore seems to welcome parallel imports as it is deemed to bring social benefits by bringing the cost of consumables down.

However, the law still prevents the importation of counterfeit goods which are sold under the pretext of being parallel imports, by way of trade mark infringement.

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