It’s Certifiable

Certification marks are special types of marks that shows that the mark owner certified that another’s goods or services met or exceeded specific standards as set by the mark owner.  A certification mark can be a word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination of those.  Some certification marks that you may recognize include:

  • ROQUEFORT for cheese
  • for electrical equipment


Such marks can 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.

Generally, certification marks fall into three types of certification marks:

  1. Geographic origin. Certification marks may be used to certify that authorized users’ goods or services originate in a specific geographic region (e.g.,
    • ROQUEFORT for cheese made only from sheep’s milk and cured in the natural caves of the community of Roquefort, Department of Aveyron, France.
    • DARJEELING for tea from the Darjeeling region on India.
  1. Standards met with respect to quality, materials, or mode of manufacture. Certification marks may be used to certify that authorized users’ goods or services meet certain standards in relation to quality, materials, or mode of manufacture (e.g., approval by Underwriters Laboratories
    •  that representative samplings of electrical equipment meeting certain safety standards
    • LEED PLATINUM certifies a commercial, institutional or residential building, neighborhood or development has met certain design, construction, operations, and maintenance standards adopted by the U.S. Green Building Council
  1. Work/labor performed by member or that worker meets certain standards. Certification marks may also be used to certify that authorized users’ work or labor on the products or services was performed by a member of a union or other organization, or that the performer meets certain standards.
  •  certifies Foodservice labor and services was performed by a person who meets promulgated standards and tests of competency a characteristic of services set by North American Association Of Food Equipment Manufacturers

Certification marks and trademarks are two different beasts. This is mainly because a certification mark is not used by its owner but rather by authorized users.  The owner of a certification doesn’t use the mark on its own goods or services (in trademark language, a certification mark does not indicate commercial source or distinguish the goods or services of one person from those of another person like trademarks do).  Instead, it says the mark owner has looked at the entity that is using the mark and agreed that the user’s goods or services meets the standards set by the mark owner for use of the mark.

After all, that is the purpose of a certification mark: to inform purchasers that the goods or services of a person possess certain characteristics or meet certain qualifications or standards established by another person.  A certification mark does not indicate origin in a single commercial or proprietary source the way a trademark or service mark does.  Rather, the same certification mark is used on the goods or services of many different producers.

As such, requirements that differ in form from those in trademark or service mark applications. Instead of showing that the mark is being used on goods or services being sold, a certification mark application needs to provide a copy of the certification standards governing use of the certification mark on or in connection with the goods or services and a statement that the applicant is not engaged (or will not engage) in the production or marketing of the goods or services to which the mark is applied, except to advertise or promote recognition of the certification program or of the goods or services that meet the certification standards of the applicant. In addition, the application provides a list of the particular goods or services on or in connection with which the applicant’s authorized users use or intend to use the mark.

Let’s put that into context.  Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Inc. has a certification mark for:

If you see this mark on a good, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board certifies that the goods provided have originated in the State of Wisconsin and have met the quality and ingredient standards as established by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.  The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board certainly didn’t make the cheese.  One of the master cheese makers here in our state did, and they did so up to the standards for quality and ingredients as set by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

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