A certification mark certifies regional or other origin, material, mode of manufacture, quality, accuracy, or other characteristics.
EXAMPLE: The California Certified Organic Farmers have established a standard to certify that food is free of pesticides. Farmers who meet these standards may use the CCOF certification mark on their food.
Certification marks have been described as a “special creature” of trademark law because a certification mark is never used by its owner. For example, the CCOF mark is owned by a voluntary trade association based in Santa Cruz, California. The group never uses the CCOF mark, because it doesn’t sell products. Instead, California farmers who meet organic farming standards use the CCOF label in conjunction with their brand name. For example, if you purchased Molino brand tomatoes, you would see the CCOF certification mark as well as the Molino trademark on the tomatoes.
A certification mark may attest to different qualities. For example, the mark can certify:
• Safety. The certification mark UL indicates that electrical equipment meets safety standards of the Underwriters Laboratory.
• Quality. Grass seed that includes the Lawn Institute Seal of Approval is certified as being “capable of yielding a fine-textured lawn which is normally perennial in the climate where marketed.”
• Accuracy. The certification mark SPER Certified guarantees the accuracy of weather-forecasting equipment.
• Materials used. Clothing with the certification mark Grown and Made in the USA guarantees the apparel was made in the United States with cotton grown in the United States.
• Mode of manufacture. The Log Splitter Manufacturer’s Association certification mark indicates that a log-splitting device has been built according to the manufacturing standards established by the LSMA.
• Regional origin. The certification mark Roquefort authenticates that cheese was manufactured from sheep’s milk in the caves of Roquefort, France, according to long-established methods.
• Source of labor. ILGWU—UNION MADE certifies that a garment was manufactured by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.
• Morality. The Intelligent Sex Seal of Approval certifies that books and videotapes discuss or portray “sexual relations in a constructive and healthy manner as part of an intelligent nondegrading relationship between fully consenting adults.”
Certification marks are registered under the Lanham Act. The certifier (that is, the organization granting the certification) is the only party permitted to file the certification mark application. The certifier must submit a copy of the certification standards (that is, what it takes to qualify to use the certification mark). However, the USPTO does not verify these standards. The owner of the certification mark is usually engaged solely in the certification process, but it is possible that the owner may also engage in sales or services. For example, the Rust-Oleum Company sells a rust preventative coating. The company also has a certification mark, Protected by Rust-Oleum, that certifies those who provide the rust preventative services.
Certification marks must be retained by the persons or groups originating them. Assigning or licensing a certification mark to others destroys any meaning the mark may have had and constitutes an abandonment of the mark. Certification marks may be registered in the United States under the Lanham Act in the same manner as other mark.