Friday, May 8, 2009

How Do You Get Coffee Certification Marks?

Dear Rich: I'm thinking of directly importing coffee from farms in Mexico. What do I do I need to do to use trademarks like fair trade, shadegrown, and organic (and also trademarks that verify where the coffee comes from, like '100% Mexican Coffee')? Also, we're transporting the coffee in a green way. Can I set up my own trademark for this? I'm so glad you asked. The trademarks you describe are certification marks, a special type of mark that informs consumers that the goods meet certain standards or are from a certain region. Certification marks are different than standard trademarks in that competing companies can display them (assuming they meet the standards of the certifying group). You can find appropriate certification marks and some contact information by searching at the USPTO. Click "Trademark," then "Search," then "Structured Form Search" and indicate "certification mark" as the search term and "Type of Mark" as the field, then change the default "OR" dropdown to "AND" (that's important!). Then type in your search term (for example, "coffee") and choose "Goods and Services" for the next field. (See our tiny hard-to-read screenshot, below). Most certifying agencies charge a fee for the use of their marks and, of course, you must meet their certification standards. 
As for registering your own certification mark (as opposed to using an existing certification mark), you can't qualify to register one if you engage in the production or marketing of the goods that you are certifying. So if you are engaged in the transportation of the coffee, the Dear Rich staff imagines you will have a hard time at the trademark office registering a certification mark for it. For your FYI, the Dear Rich staff is currently considering registering its own certification marks for (1) motion pictures in which there is no littering, and (2) plastic shell packaging that does not require use of the jaws of life.