A certification mark is used in commerce by a person other than its owner to identify goods or services as being of a particular type. When a certification mark is used on a product, it is to indicate the existence of an accepted product standard or regulation and a claim that the manufacturer has verified compliance with those standards or regulations. Certification marks can be names, symbols, or devices that are used by groups or people that show compliance to a set of standards.
Certification marks are protected and regulated as a type of trademark under the Lanham Act but serve a distinctly different function in the marketplace. By simple definition, a certification mark is a mark used in commerce by a person other than its owner. See 15 U.S.C. § 1127. Certification marks are generally owned by trade associations or other centralized commercial groups. The owner of the mark establishes standards for certification to identify that goods or products bearing the mark are of a particular type. The owner of the mark is not permitted to use the mark. See 15 U.S.C. § 1064. The mark is used by third parties to indicate that the goods or services being offered conform to the standards established by the mark's owner. The owner of a certification mark is compelled to license the use of the mark to anyone whose goods or services meet the standards established for certification. See 15 U.S.C. § 1064.
There are three basic categories of certification. The mark may be used to certify: regional or other origin; material, mode of manufacture, quality, accuracy, or other characteristics of the goods or services; or that the work or labor on the goods or services was performed by members of a union or other organization. See 15 U.S.C. § 1127. These categories are not mutually exclusive; the same mark may be used to certify one or more aspects of the goods or services.
The owner of a certification mark is required to monitor and control the use of the mark by others. Certification guarantees that goods or services bearing the mark possess specific characteristics. If the certification mark owner fails to strictly enforce the standards set for certification, the mark may be canceled. See 15 U.S.C. § 1064.
For cases discussing challenges to certification marks, see, e.g.; Levy v. Kosher Overseers Association of America Inc., 104 F.3d 38 (2d Cir. 1997); and Community of Roquefort v. William Faehndrich, Inc., 303 F.2d 494 (2d. Cir. 1962).
[Last updated in July of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]