Discussed here, a certification mark can be a valuable tool for regional nonprofits and quasi-governmental agencies to build brand awareness. This post focuses on some of the more technical aspects of obtaining and owning a certification mark.
Owners of certified marks have five main obligations to ensure approval and continued registration of their certification mark.
1. Certification Standards
Your organization will be required to identify the set of standards to which your certification mark applies. This is an extremely important step because, as discussed below, your organization must grant the use of the mark to companies or individuals that meet these standards.
2. Control Over the Mark
Trademark law states that an owner of a certification mark must control or be able to exercise legitimate control over use of the mark. This means the owner must take steps to ensure the products or services that will use the mark actually meet the certification standards of the mark. Further, the owner must be cautious to prevent unauthorized use of the mark. If either situation is present, the certification mark is at risk.
3. Use by Owner
Certification marks, by definition, are not to be used by the owner of the mark. If your organization wishes to use a mark in connection with the sale of its own goods and services, a certification mark is not the right vehicle for you.
4. Uses Other than to Certify
Certification mark holders should have a single focus for the use of their marks: to certify certain goods or services. Anytime other factors come into play, such as playing favorites (as discussed below) or permitting a business to incorporate the certification mark into its own trademark, the mark can be at risk.
5. Refusal to Permit the Use of the Certification Mark
Certification mark owners cannot discriminately refuse to certify or continue to certify the goods or services of any person who maintains the standards or conditions which such mark certifies. When a business meets your standards, you should permit the use of your certification mark.
In the right situation, certification marks can be a valuable tool. However, before investing the time and money into setting industry or region standards, you should consult with an attorney to review the obligations of owning this type of mark.