IP and brand identity - How a Brunei sportswear brand expanded their business with a helping hand from trade mark protection
‘Increasing Non-Oil and Gas Sector Output as a Catalyst for Economic Growth’ is the theme of Brunei Darussalam’s National Development Plan 11, which runs from 2018 to 2023 ().
The previous plan focused on accelerating economic growth and enhancing the human capital’s potential, the current plan goes further and has the following aims:
- Facilitate the private sector to start businesses,
- attract direct foreign investment,
- encourage cross-border trade,
- empower the country’s micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).
As the national economy relies heavily on the exponential export of oil and gas, the government has been developing several strategies and development programmes to help diversify the country’s industries.
The strategy concerning intellectual property rights (IPRs) is part of this diversification approach. With the helping hand of an efficient IPR protection system, local MSMEs feel much more secure doing business. Approximately 6000 enterprises are operating in Brunei Darussalam, of which MSMEs accounted for 97.2 % ().
The Brunei-based sportswear company Repathlete is among those MSMEs. The company’s co-founders, Afif Rahman and Young Tet Wee, have always had a passion for fitness and an active lifestyle, so they started this business to monetise their passion and hobbies within the industry. They kick-started their mission by identifying a problem: ‘Personally, I find that I sweat a lot, and being in a country where the humidity levels are very high, combined with hot weather, it is not a good mix,’ said Afif. ‘I was sure I was not alone.’
With the problem identified, and after hands-on trials and customer feedback, Repathlete was able to design and produce a line of fitted sports clothing from quality fabric with a nice feel. They currently offer both online and offline sales at their shop, where customers can try on the items. However, their ultimate goal is not only to sell their apparel and create a solid customer base within the country, but to export them to the global market. To date, they have received many one-off orders from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia. However, before further expanding their business, they felt the need to protect their creativity and company and decided to attend a workshop on trade marks organised by the Brunei Intellectual Property Office (BruIPO) to explore their options.
After finding out where to seek assistance and what to do to get their brand protected, they registered their trade mark at BruIPO. Registering their trade mark helps protect their brand from IP infringements and and allow them to promote quality products with their customers
‘Being a brand, we feel that it is a necessity to have this protection and it has allowed us to feel more secure with our brand identity’ Afif added.
In addition to registering their trade mark with the national office, the co-founders also plan to register it through the Madrid System once they start exporting regularly. In brief, the ‘Madrid System for the International Registration of Marks’ is operated by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to allow companies to register their marks in multiple countries at the same time. The system is time-saving and cost-effective, offering protection in as many as 123 Madrid Protocol member countries through a single application in one language and by paying only one set of fees. A company can choose to proceed through the national/regional route, asking their national/regional IP office to file an international application for them, or they can file directly themselves through WIPO.
During the COVID‑19 pandemic, Repathlete were able to operate normally as 80 % of their sales volume comes from their online store, which runs 24/7. Apart from having their staff pack and send the online orders for delivery, everything else was done remotely. Even though they have not been greatly affected by the crisis, they have continued to look into opportunities to expand their business as soon as the pandemic is over. An international registration would give them a helping hand in finding new business opportunities worldwide while maintaining their brand value for the long run.
‘We recommend that other MSMEs seek IP protection and register their trade marks, especially if they intend to go into e-commerce business where their website can be accessed globally, aim to do heavy branding and designing, or plan to export their items abroad.’