How trademarks can promote sustainability

sustainability in certification and collective marks IPHub Asia

Understand how certification and collective marks can promote sustainability

As the climate agenda intensifies, consumers are increasingly conscious of how technology affects the landscape. Sustainability is the new way of doing business and it is becoming an integral part of many companies’ philosophy. If consistent with a brand’s positioning, it will not only increase its value, but also guarantee a long life for the company.

There are many benefits of trademark registration but few know that trademark law empowers consumers to select products that reflect their values. In fact, there are specific types of trademarks called certification marks and collective marks that are provided by most legal systems for the purpose of ensuring that consumers know exactly what they are buying. Indeed, these marks have the particularity of informing customers that the product they are buying complies with certain standards such as labour conditions, environmental practices, or sustainable manufacturing processes. This information helps customers make an educated choice when purchasing goods and services.

Most certification marks and collective marks are established by trade associations or other similar bodies that have an interest in maintaining standards within their particular industry. They are market incentives for businesses to meet high standards of production in exchange for premium pricing. Certification and collective trademarks can be registered in most countries around the world, including Singapore.

Certification marks

So, what is a certification mark? As per Section 61(1) of the Singapore Trade Marks Act (Cap. 332, 2005 Rev. Ed.), a certification mark is a sign used, or intended to be used, to distinguish goods or services —
(a) dealt with or provided in the course of trade; and
(b) certified by the proprietor of the certification mark in relation to origin, material, mode of manufacture of goods or performance of services, quality, accuracy or other characteristics, from other goods or services dealt with or provided in the course of trade but not so certified.

Certification marks, like ordinary trademarks, are to be filed in the appropriate class(es) in relation to specific goods and/or services. However, unlike a traditional trademark, a certification mark is a stamp of quality that is used, not by the proprietor of the mark, but by his/her authorised users as a guarantee to the relevant customers that the product or service possesses particular characteristics.

Another difference with standard trademarks is the requirement to submit the regulations governing the use of the certification mark within 9 months from the application date, failing which the application shall be treated as withdrawn. If submitted in time, the certification marks and the regulations are then published and open to public inspection and to opposition.

To illustrate certification marks, let’s take the example of the mark global organic textile standard iphub asiaregistered in Singapore in 2012 by Global Standard gemeinnützige GmbH. As per the regulations, the “aim of this standard is to define the requirements to ensure organic status of textiles, from harvesting of the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing up to labelling in order to provide a credible assurance to the end consumer.” More particularly, the regulations specify the list of prohibited chemicals and treatments such as bleaches or chlorination of wools, and also the minimum social criteria such as forced and child labour, working conditions, as well as environmental criteria. The Global Organic Textile Standard is presently recognised as the world’s leading processing standard for textiles made from organic fibres.

Collective marks

As per section 60(1) of the Singapore Trade Marks Act (Cap. 332, 2005 Rev. Ed.), “a collective mark is a sign used, or intended to be used, in relation to goods or services dealt with or provided in the course of trade by members of an association to distinguish those goods or services from goods or services so dealt with or provided by persons who are not members of the association.”

Like ordinary trademarks, the main feature of a collective mark is that it serves as a badge of origin. In other words, it indicates that the goods or services originate from members of a particular association. Collective marks could, but do not necessarily certify the quality of the goods/services.

As for certification marks, the applicant of a collective mark shall submit the regulations governing the use of a collective mark within 9 months from the filing date. Similarly, they are open to opposition and to public inspection.

Let’s take the example of the mark vigneron independant iphub asia no. T1105459D registered in Singapore in the name of Vignerons Indépendants de France in 2010. As per the regulations, the aim of the proprietor is to – among others – “coordinate and strengthen the work of its members, and to encourage the creation of new Federation representative of a department or a French wine region; represent the Federation with various regional, national, European or international organizations; act in favour of the production and promotion of the wines produced by independent growers”.

This collective mark can be used by the members of Vignerons Indépendants de France, which could be Fédérations (associations or trade unions), or wine growers. The winegrowers need to meet certain requirements to be members of the association, such as respecting the terroir, producing their own wine in their cellar and being willing to share their passion while selling their wine.

Brands need to be trusted. Addressing sustainability issues is a big challenge for companies but it is a way to build a more meaningful brand. For many people, their brand choice is one way of confirming and expressing their own identity and as such, both the certification marks and collective marks play an important role.

At IPHub Asia, we specialise in trademark and design protection in Asia, with a strong focus on Southeast Asia. If you have any questions about certification and collective marks or have other IP-related queries, please get in touch.

You can also visit our website to learn more about our services.

As Founder and Managing Director of IPHub Asia, Dorothée is passionate about trademarks and the importance they hold in any business – small or large, in the Asian ecosystem. She has been living in Asia since 2003 and is up-to-date with the legislative changes of each country with regard to trademarks and other IP rights. She also enjoys visiting the South-East Asian region and is eager to discover new ways of doing business, embrace other cultures and meet new and disruptive entrepreneurs.

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