An Overview of Trademarks, Certificate Marks and Collective Marks
Trademarks have been known to be in existence since times immemorial. Ancient Indian craftsmen are known to have engraved their unique ‘signature’ in the sculptures they sent to Iran. Trademarks have been in extensive use during the Middle Ages when trade flourished between civilizations. In the modern era too, this practice continues, and the abbreviation ‘TM’ is often found in superscript beside a word or phrase, which indicates that it is a trademark.
A trademark is a sign used to identify goods or services offered by one entity from those offered by another. Its two main characters are that it should be (a) Distinctive, but not descriptive (b) Not Deceptive. The term ‘trademark’ is inclusive of both trademarks as well as service marks.
Why is A Trademark Necessary?
- To simplify the identification of goods, services, their quality and value by potential customers. This is part of ‘Brand Value.’
- They are critical as trade today is not restricted to a region but spans multiple countries and continents.
What Can Be Used As A Trademark?
The following kinds of marks are used as trademarks:
- Word Marks: Words, letters, numbers, abbreviations or names and surnames: example- ‘Suzuki’ is a surname, as is ‘Ford’. ‘IBM’ is an abbreviation for ‘International Business Machines’. It also includes slogans, as in ‘Just Do It’ for Nike.
- Figurative elements: Symbols like the green crocodile representing the apparel brand ‘Lacoste’ or the golden crown representing the watchmakers ‘Rolex’. It can be a logo by itself or in combination with words, as in the yellow rounded’ with “I’m lovin’ it” beneath, a trademark of McDonald’s.
- Devices: Three-dimensional devices like the packaging of a product, or the product shape, can also serve as a trademark. An example is the Coca Cola bottle and the shape of the Apple iPod.
- Other marks: Nowadays, holograms are being used by most credit card companies and many goods manufacturers. Sound (say, an ad jingle, as the four-tone chime of Britannia), or even smell (a unique fragrance) can be used as a trademark.
A Trademark Should Be Distinctive, But Not Descriptive
The trademark should be unique and distinctive, something which any other person cannot immediately associate with the product concerned. It should not be descriptive of the product either, as the competitors may have to use the same words to describe their products too. The World Intellectual Property Organization considers a trademark to be ‘descriptive’ if it describes the nature or identity of the goods or services for which it is used.
A case in point is the trademark ‘Apple’ for a computer. It is distinctive as the term is not usually associated with technology or computing, and competitors need not use the term to describe their products. At the same time, ‘Apple’ would not be accepted as a trademark for a firm that cultivates and markets apples (the fruit), as the term is descriptive of the product. It is also not distinct as every apple-grower would use the term to describe their products.
At the same time, the mark should not be deceptive either. The trademark ‘100% Natural’ would not be acceptable for a brand of juice incorporating artificial flavoring, as the trademark would be misleading and deceptive.
Collective Marks and Certificate Marks
- Collective Marks: Sometimes, a group of people within the same industry or geographical region may register a ‘Collective Mark,’ to indicate the affiliation of enterprises using the mark. These may also refer to identifiable standards met by the products for which a mark is used. The company’s unique trademark can be used together with the Collective Mark.
- Certificate Mark: This is a logo or mark that indicates that the goods are certified by the proprietor of the mark in respect of the origin, mode of manufacture of goods, quality or other characteristics. eg. ISO9001
The difference is that only members of the association can use the collective mark whereas any manufacturer adhering to the prescribed standards can use the certification mark.