TMEP 1306.05(a): Geographic Certification Marks – Generally

October 2017 Edition of the TMEP

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1306.05(a)    Geographic Certification Marks – Generally

A geographic certification mark is a word, name, symbol, device, or some combination of these elements, used alone or as a portion of a composite mark, to certify that the goods or services originate in the geographical region identified by the term or, in some circumstances, from a broader region that includes the region identified by the term. See 15 U.S.C. §1127.  As noted in Cmty of Roquefort v. William Faehndrich, Inc., 303 F.2d 494, 497, 133 USPQ 633, 635 (2d Cir. 1962):

A geographical name does not require a secondary meaning in order to qualify for registration as a certification mark.  It is true that section 1054 provides that certification marks are "subject to the provisions relating to the registration of trademarks, so far as they are applicable...."  But section 1052(e)(2), which prohibits registration of names primarily geographically descriptive, specifically excepts "indications of regional origin" registrable under section 1054.  Therefore, a geographical name may be registered as a certification mark even though it is primarily geographically descriptive.

A geographic certification mark may feature a recognized geographic term that identifies the relevant geographic region, as in the marks ROQUEFORT for cheese, DARJEELING for tea, and COLOMBIAN for coffee. Or the mark may contain a variation or abbreviation of a geographic term or a combination of different geographic terms, with or without other matter. Sometimes the mark will include or consist of a designation or figurative element that is not technically geographic, but nonetheless has significance as an indication of geographic origin solely in a particular region. For example, the mark CIAUSCOLO is not the name of a particular place, but it nevertheless certifies that the salami to which it is applied originates in various municipalities of certain Italian provinces. See TMEP §1306.05(j) for additional examples of geographic certification marks.

As with any certification mark, a geographic certification mark is not used by its owner in the same way a trademark or service mark is. Rather, the owner of a geographic certification mark controls use of the mark by other parties. These parties apply the mark to goods or services to indicate to consumers that the goods or services have been certified as meeting the standards set forth by the certifier. Thus, the goods or services to which a geographic certification mark is applied may emanate from a number of sources comprising various certified producers in the relevant region. See TMEP §§1306.01-1306.01(b), 1306.04(b).

The issue in determining whether a designation is registrable as a regional certification mark is whether the public understands that goods bearing the mark come only from the region named in the mark, not whether the public is expressly aware of the certification function of the mark per se.  If use of the designation in fact is controlled by the certifier and limited to products meeting the certifier’s standards of regional origin, and if purchasers understand the designation to refer only to products produced in the particular region and not to products produced elsewhere, then the designation functions as a regional certification mark. Institut Nat’l Des Appellations D’Origine v. Brown-Forman Corp., 47 USPQ2d 1875 (TTAB 1998).

Regardless of an applicant’s intent, however, consumers may perceive some terms as identifying a type or category of the relevant goods or services, rather than indicating geographic origin. As discussed in TMEP §1306.05(c), these terms do not function as geographic certification marks and may not be registered as such. Not every certification mark that features a geographic designation serves as a geographic certification mark. See TMEP §1306.05(f). But, as explained in TMEP §1306.05(d), those that do are specifically excluded from the provisions of Trademark Act §2(e)(2). Furthermore, for purposes of a §2(d) likelihood-of-confusion analysis, geographic designations that appear in a certification mark and function to certify regional origin should be treated like distinctive terms and should not be considered "weak." See TMEP §1306.05(g).

Applications for geographic certification marks must include all of the elements of a certification mark application. See TMEP §§1306.02-1306.02(d); 1306.03. As discussed in TMEP §1306.05(b), additional considerations apply to some of the elements.