TMEP 1306.05(b)(ii): Authority to Control a Geographic Certification Mark

October 2017 Edition of the TMEP

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1306.05(b)(ii)    Authority to Control a Geographic Certification Mark

The right that a private person can acquire in a geographical term is usually a trademark right, on the basis of exclusive use resulting in the term becoming distinctive of that person’s goods. Sometimes, however, circumstances make it desirable or necessary for various persons in a region to use a geographic designation for that region not as a trademark indicating commercial origin in one particular source, but to certify the regional origin of all the parties’ goods. And, when geographic designations are used to certify regional origin, a governmental body or government-authorized entity is usually most able to exert the necessary control to ensure all qualified parties in the region are free to use the designation and to discourage improper or otherwise detrimental uses of the certification mark.

When a geographical term is used as a certification mark, two elements are of basic concern: first, preserving the freedom of all persons in the region to use the term and; second, preventing abuses or illegal uses of the mark that would be detrimental to all those entitled to use the mark. Normally, a private individual is not in the best position to fulfill these objectives. The government of a region would be the logical authority to control the use of the name of the region. The government, either directly or through a body to which it has given authority, would have power to preserve the right of all persons entitled to use the mark and to prevent abuse or illegal use of the mark.

The applicant may be the government itself (such as the government of the United States, a state, or a city), one of the departments of a government, or a body operating with governmental authorization that is not formally a part of the government. There may be an interrelationship between bodies in more than one of these categories and the decision as to which is the appropriate body to apply depends on which body actually conducts the certification program or is most directly associated with it. The examining attorney should not question the identity of the applicant, unless the record indicates that the entity identified as the applicant is not the certifier.

If an applicant’s authority to control use of a geographic certification mark featuring a geographic designation is not obvious, or is otherwise unclear, such as when the applicant is not a governmental entity, the examining attorney must request clarification, using a Trademark Rule 2.61(b) requirement for information. 37 C.F.R. §2.61(b). One acceptable response would be an explanation that the relevant governmental body has granted the applicant the authority to implement the certification program. See Luxco, Inc. v. Consejo Regulador del Tequila, A.C., 121 USPQ2d 1477, 1497-1501 (TTAB 2017) (finding that applicant, a nonprofit civil association accredited under Mexican law to certify tequila and authorized by the Mexican government to apply to register TEQUILA as a certification mark, had the authority to control use of the term).

If the applicant’s response does not establish applicant’s authority to control the mark, registration may be refused under Trademark Act Sections 4 and 45, 15 U.S.C. §§1054, 1127, on the ground that the application does not satisfy all of the statutory requirements for a certification mark because the applicant does not appear to exercise legitimate control over the use of the mark or does not have a bona fide intent to do so.