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Collective Trademarks

What is a “collective” trademark? A collective mark is a trademark used by the members of a group to indicate association with that group. Popular collective trademarks include American Bar Association, Realtor Associate, Rotary International, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, as well as the names of various fraternities and sororities. A collective trademark, may also indicate membership in an organization, such as a union or a cooperative.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office reviews collective trademark applications the same way they review other trademark applications, using generally similar registrability criteria. Rules regarding things like descriptiveness and disclaimers are identical. The required specimens showing use of the collective mark are a little different. Specimens for a collective mark registration must show the collective mark used by a member, on, or in connection with goods or services offered by the member. Unlike typical trademarks, collective trademarks are not used by the owner of the trademark and specimens showing use by the owner are insufficient to demonstrate the requisite use for federal registration.

When applying for federal registration of a collective trademark, the owner must indicate that the owner is, or intends to, exercise legitimate control over the use of the collective trademark in commerce by its members. Unlike typical trademark applications, for a collective trademark application, the owner must specify who can use the trademark, the nature of the relationship between the owner and the users and how the owner is controlling the use of the collective trademark.

If the owner’s bylaws or other written policies detail how the owner is controlling the use of the trademark, it is sufficient to state this in the application. Otherwise, a written statement, such as “Applicant controls the use of the mark by the members in the following manner: [specify how owner is controlling the use of the trademark]” is acceptable

To protect the public from unauthorized use of a collective mark, it is important for the collective mark owner to detail, in a written policy, the following information:

• The exact trademark and specifications for how it is to be used;
• Identification of the owner of the collective trademark;
• Identification of members allowed to use the collective trademark;
• Membership criteria;
• How the owner controls the use of the collective trademark; and
• The consequences of unauthorized use of the collective trademark.

As collective marks are a little different, and involve a little more technicality, it is best to discuss your proposed collective trademark use with a trusted trademark attorney before proceeding with use or registration of the trademark.

Brett Trout

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