Certification Marks

Jordon Trapnell guest writes:

Take a close look at the Certification Markback of the electronics or appliances around your house, and it will be easy to pick out a variety of obscure little logos that don’t relate to the manufacturer.  These mysterious markings can be found on all kinds of products from pillows to sunglasses to refrigerators; but what are they?  They are called certification marks, and although they are similar to trademarks, they have a completely different meaning.

A certification mark is defined by the United States Patent and Trademark Office as a mark used “to certify regional or other origin, material, mode of manufacture, quality, accuracy, or other characteristics of such person’s goods or services or that the work or labor on the goods or services was performed by members of a union or other organization.”  A certification mark can consist of wording only, design only, or a combination of both.  Unlike a trademark, a certification mark is not used by its owner and does not indicate commercial source (the same mark could be found on products from a variety of manufacturers).  Instead, it indicates that the manufacturer of a product has the approval to use the mark from an outside party who has, in some way, examined the product.  The manufacturer does this in order to add some sort of credibility to their product or to conform to legislation.  For example, a small circle surrounding the letters “UL” is a common certification mark on electrical products or equipment.  The owner of the mark is the company Underwriters Laboratories, a global independent research company that conducts scientific tests for safety.  The presence of this mark indicates that representative product samples were tested by UL and passed its safety standards.

There are three types of certification marks.  First, there are marks like the example above that certify goods or services meet certain standards relating to quality, materials, or mode of manufacture.  “Energy Star” or “Asthma and Allergy Friendly” are other examples.  Second, there are certification marks that indicate goods that originate from a specific geographic region.  “Champagne,” while not actually a registered certification mark, is exemplary of such indicating marks.  In general, only products that the French government certifies as originating from the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne.  The third type of certification marks is used to certify that a member of a union or other organization performed the labor required to make the products.  Some certification marks have a unique purpose that is somewhat difficult to categorize, like “CE” which is a very common mark mandatory for products placed on the market in the European Economic Area.

Like trademarks, the issuance of certification marks in the U.S. is controlled by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  The process used to determine whether the mark can be registered is similar, based on areas like descriptiveness of the mark and likelihood of confusion.  The contents of the application must include a statement regarding what the mark certifies and defining the standards that will determine meeting certification.

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