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Branding Tool for Tourism Organizations: The Certification Mark

By Eric Misterovich

Communities with a cohesive tourism brand are able to broadcast a consistent message about their region, businesses, and natural wonders to lure visitor dollars into its area. This task often falls on regional or local tourism nonprofits and organizations. Trademark law provides a method for these organizations to foster a consistent brand message: the certification mark.


Trademark Law Refresher


Before explaining why a certification mark may help your tourism organization, let’s review trademark law’s basics. Trademarks are used to identify the source of goods or services and allow a business to register a “mark” for a specific class of goods or services. Once registered, that business has the nationwide priority to use that mark. Trademark law is designed to protect consumers’ ability to trust the source of goods or services they are purchasing.


For example, if a consumer prefers a particular brand of coffee, they will likely identify that brand by the logo, name, or slogan on the coffee cup it is served in. In other words, the consumer sees the “mark” and thinks “yes, I know and trust that brand and will purchase that coffee.”


However, if the gas station on the corner brews its own coffee, but puts it in a cup with the recognized chain’s mark, the consumer will be confused as to the source of the coffee. Trademark law prevents this from occurring.


What is a Certification Mark?


It is a name, symbol, logo, word, or combination thereof, registered with the United States Patent and Trademark office that 1) is used by a person other than the owner 2) which the owner has bona fide intent to permit the person to use in commerce 3) that is used to certify regional or other origin, material, mode of manufacture, quality, accuracy, or other characteristic of goods or services. 15 USC 1127.


Examples of Certification Marks


  • The Idaho Potato Commission owns the “Certified Genuine Idaho Potatoes” certification mark.
  • The Maine Lobster Promotion Council owns the “Certified Maine Lobster” certification mark.
  • The Georgia Department of Agriculture owns a certification mark in “Vidalia.”


Benefits of a Certification Mark


Certification marks carry the same authority as a trademark. However, an added benefit is that the certification mark may be perceived as a particularly trustworthy indicator, largely because the owner of the mark is not using it for its own benefit, but rather, the benefit of others.


Said another way, the owner of the certification mark is not attempting to win business for itself, instead, it is attempting to identify a specific set of goods or services and inform consumers those goods or services are consistent with regional or other standards.




Those interested in pursuing a certification mark should take the time to understand the other requirements that come with the application, including a list of standards to which the mark will apply.


But in all, the certification mark can provide a consistent brand message that stays, at least directly, out of the competitive business mix. When a certification mark catches on, businesses will promote the greater brand with every product they sell. For tourism related organizations, the certification mark presents an opportunity to valuable build awareness.



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