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What are Certification Marks?

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), “a certification mark is a type of trademark that is used to show consumers that particular goods and/or services, or their providers, have met certain standards.” Unlike traditional trademarks, certification marks are used by someone other than the owner to certify something about some products or services. Businesses often use certification marks to prove their products fulfill particular qualifications or have passed certain tests that are established by the owner of the mark. For instance, certification marks may show that a product is safe, reliable, humanely produced, or originates in a particular geographical region. 

Key Takeaways

  • Certification marks are trademarks that show consumers that specific goods and/or services, or their providers, meet established criteria.
  • These marks are used by a person other than the trademark owner.
  • Businesses must meet the owner’s certification standards in order to use the mark.

Certification Mark Requirements

Certification marks are characterized by certain requirements and criteria. They are subject to some of the same requirements as traditional trademarks. For instance, the mark cannot be too similar to already existing certification marks and cannot be merely descriptive. The applicant must also provide sufficient evidence proving how businesses other than the owner will use the certification mark. It is not necessary for these certification standards to be original; applicants may use the criteria of a private company or government agency. Lastly, the applicant must sign off on a number of statements. The owner must confirm that he or she isn't selling, producing, or marketing the product or service covered by the mark. The applicant also signs a statement showing how the owner has control over the use of the certification mark.

Certification Mark Rules

The owner of a certification mark is required to follow a number of strict rules and regulations in order to maintain ownership of the mark once it has been granted. The four rules are as follows:

  • Non-discrimination: Any company that meets the standards of certification is allowed to use the certification mark.
  • Exclusivity of Use: The owner can only use the mark for certification. If the owner uses the mark for any purpose other than certification, it will be invalidated.
  • Standards: The owner must verify that parties continue to meet the certification standards by drafting binding agreements.
  • Objectivity: To maintain objectivity, the owner cannot sell their own products that include the certification mark.

Bottom Line

We encounter certification marks frequently in our daily lives, even if we aren't familiar with all their technical and legal details. EnergyStar is a well-known certification mark that indicates how efficient electronic appliances are. Moreover, the Parental Advisory mark indicates that certain content contains inappropriate or vulgar language or material.

If you need help with certification marks, reach out to a professional intellectual property lawyer. As an expert on trademarks, he or she can provide guidance in all areas relating to IP law.

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