Updated, June 2015
1. What is a certification mark?
A certification mark certifies the nature or origin of the goods or services on or in connection with which it is used. This includes, for example, region or location or origin, materials of construction, method or mode of manufacture of goods or provision of services, quality assurance, accuracy of the goods or services, and any definable characteristic of the goods or services. It can also certify manufacture of goods or provision of services by members of a union or other organization to certain standards.
2. What are some examples of certification marks?
One example is the GOOD HOUSEKEEPING SEAL OF APPROVAL. The Good Housekeeping Institute awards the Good Housekeeping Seal, which stands as one of the most recognized consumer product insignia in the United States. The seal represents Good Housekeeping Magazine’s limited warranty that if any product that carries the seal is found defective within two years from the date of purchase, Good Housekeeping will either replace it or refund the purchase price.
Another example is the CE mark, which indicates that a product complies with safety, health or environmental requirements set by the European Commission (CE originally stood for Communauté Européenne
(French for “European Community”)). The CE mark is mandatory on certain products sold within the European Economic Area (EEA; the EEA comprises the 28 member states of the European Union and the 4 member states of the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland)) and Turkey.
The PSE (Product Safety Electric Appliance and Material) mark of approval indicates that a product complies with Japanese standards for electric appliances.
Another example is the WOOLMARK logo, used to identify goods that are 100 percent wool.
3. What criteria or conditions must be satisfied in order to obtain a certification mark registration?
Normally, an applicant will be required to produce operating rules and regulations identifying what is being certified by the mark and the required standards. The organization doing the certifying cannot itself engage in the production or marketing of the goods or services but must be competent to certify that any user has met the requirements. Through the agreement, executed by the user, confirming adherence to the rules and regulations, the organization must be able to control, or legitimately exercise control over, the permitted use. There will need to be methods of testing and quality control with appointed individuals or bodies to periodically ensure conformance by any user. The manufacturers or users may be prevented from using the mark if an audit reveals a lack of compliance with the standards set by the organization.
4. Are the systems or requirements the same for all countries?
The above guidelines apply to many countries, with some local variations. For example, in some countries it is necessary to show that registration is in the public interest and to the public advantage. Once a certification mark holder has obtained approval under the rules of a major country, the certification mark likely will be acceptable in other countries with some slight amendments as to form and content, taking into account local requirements such as public policy and local rules on aspects of the operation of the certification scheme.
5. What is the process for registration of a certification mark?
A certification mark application is similar in many respects to an ordinary trademark application. The mark will be examined as to registrability and conflict with prior rights, depending on the jurisdiction concerned. Very often there will be amendments or some additional requirements to meet the certification requirements, such as the identification of important standards. The United States has a separate application form and classification system for certification marks.
Filing a Trademark Application in the United States Fact Sheet
Filing a Trademark Application Outside the United States Fact Sheet
6. What can I do in those countries where certification mark registrations are not available?
In some countries where there are no provisions for certification, it may be possible to obtain registration of the mark as a collective or association mark. In most cases, the requirements are similar to those for certification marks; in other cases, however, they may be less prescriptive. Where no special registrations for certification or collective marks are available, the mark owner may apply for an ordinary trademark registration and then enter into a licensing arrangement with approved users in the country concerned.
Trademark Licensing Fact Sheet