Categories of Marks

Marks are a type of intellectual property that can have powerful effects in the marketplace. They are words, phrases, symbols, designs, or a combination of these that identify the source of goods or services for sale. Marks help consumers decide what to buy by giving the consumer a shorthand way of rapidly identifying who is selling a good or service. Marks also encourage manufacturers and service providers to make better products or offer better services, since trademarks allow a consumer to build a negative association with a particular good or service that did not satisfy him or her in the past.

Categories of marks include:

  • Trademarks
  • Service Marks
  • Certification Marks
  • Collective Marks

Before selecting a mark, you will need to determine whether the mark you want to register can be registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and how difficult it will be to protect the mark, since the USPTO only registers but does not enforce marks. You will be responsible for enforcing your rights and policing how any of your marks can be used.

Trademarks Compared to Service Marks

Trademarks are words, phrases, symbols, designs, or a combination of them that can be used to identify and distinguish the source of goods. If you are manufacturing goods for sale, it is a good idea to use a trademark that can be put on all your goods to identify you as the source. Some well-known trademarks include “Coca Cola” to identify the source of brown sugary sodas and “Apple” to identify the source of personal computers and associated products. The largest source of intangible value (or intangible asset) that a company has is its trademark.   

Often the term “trademark” also refers to service marks. Service marks are words, phrases, symbols, designs, or a combination of them that are used to identify and distinguish the source of services. Commonly known service marks are “AT&T” for telephone services and “Walmart” for retail stores. As with trademarks, service marks are protected only for a particular geographic area in which services are provided, and reasonable extensions of that area, unless the mark is registered. If a service mark is registered with the United States Patent and Trade Office, protections apply nationwide.

There is no practical difference between how trademarks and service marks are protected. You can choose to register one or the based on what you are offering the public:  goods or services.

Certification and Collective Trademarks

Certification marks certify that goods or services have a particular nature or origin. They may indicate that an item or service comes from a specific geographic location, is made of a particular material, has a certain quality, or has any other defined characteristic. A certification mark also can certify that a particular manufacturer or service provider adheres to certain standards. An example of a certification mark is the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. This is awarded to manufacturers to show that, if a product carrying the seal is found defective within two years from the purchase date, Good Housekeeping will replace or refund it.

If you are the head of an organization, such as a labor union or licensing entity, you might consider a collective mark. These types of marks are any words, phrases, symbols, designs, or combination of them that show that the mark’s user is a member of a specific organization. While the organization remains the mark’s owner, the members are those who use the mark to indicate their affiliation.

In order to belong to a group and use the collective membership mark, a member usually has to pay membership fees and follow rules that the organization puts forward. Used properly, collective membership marks can help the public quickly discover whether a business has any affiliation with a group. For example, “FTD” is found in many flower shops, and it shows that the flower shop that carries this mark is part of a national delivery system.