Collective Marks: When Your Group Wants to Protects Its Name

In trademark law, a collective mark is a symbol, label, word, phrase, or other distinguishing mark that signifies membership in an organization (a collective membership mark) or that identifies goods or services that originate from the member organization (a collective trademark). Such marks are specifically permitted by § 1127 of the Lanham Act, which governs American trademark law.

Where might you find such collective marks being used? Consider businesses bound together by a common mission, geography, or quality. For example, the letters "ILGWU" on a shirt are a collective mark identifying the shirt as a product of members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. It distinguishes that shirt from those made by nonunion shops.

Another example of a collective membership mark is the familiar "FTD" found in many flower shops. This mark means that the flower shop is part of a group that participates in a national flower delivery system. To belong to that group—and thus obtain authorization to use the FTD mark—the shop must pay membership fees and conform its practices to the rules set out by the group.

A collective mark can also function as a trademark or service mark, signifying that a product or service originates from an organization. If you are a member of a group or trade organization (for example, “THE MAINE CRAFTS GUILD”), you probably want to limit use of the name to members of the guild. You would not want nonmembers to use the name, since that would undermine the group’s standards. Being a member night require certain accomplishments, sales records, quality of materials sold, or other metrics.

The collective mark is owned by the organization (not by any particular member). For example, The MAINE CRAFTS GUILD collective mark could be used to sell member products (selected crafts works) or offer services (knitting lessons). In other words, a collective mark can be used in two ways: to signify membership or as a trademark.

In order to protect your group’s right to the mark, you should federally register your group name as a collective mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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