What is a Collective Trademark?

collective trademark

A collective trademark is similar in some ways to a traditional trademark and is afforded the same protection from infringement and misappropriation under the law.  Although they are far rarer than traditional trademarks, collective trademarks still play an important role in the marketplace and convey information to consumers that could affect their purchasing decisions and whether to do business with one product/service provider over another.

How Does a Collective Trademark Differ From Other Marks?

I like to think of a collective trademark as a hybrid of a traditional trademark and a collective membership mark.  So, let me first explain the purpose/function of these two types of marks since I think that will help you better understand collective trademarks.

Traditional Trademarks

A traditional trademark identifies the source of products/services and distinguishes them from the products/services offered by others.  A trademark is owned by a single individual or entity (such as a corporation, LLC, or LLP) and the owner exercises control over the use of the mark and the quality of the products/services provided under the mark.  For example, Disney owns the trademark MICKEY MOUSE and uses it in connection with the advertising and sale of hundreds of different products, including clothing, video games, jewelry, posters, mugs, and key chains.  Similarly, the National Football League owns the NFL trademark and uses it in connection with organizing football competitions, broadcasting football games, and operating a website that provides information about football.  Through the use of a trademark license, both Disney and the National Football League regularly permit other companies to use their valuable trademarks to make and sell products bearing their marks so long as the products meet the quality control standards set forth in the license.  In return, Disney and the National Football League receive a royalty from the licensees.

Collective Membership Marks

A collective membership mark doesn’t identify and distinguish products/services like MICKEY MOUSE and NFL do.  Rather, a collective membership mark is used by members of an organization solely to indicate that they are members of the organization.  The collective membership mark is owned by the organization and the individual members of the organization may not use the collective membership mark to advertise and sell any products/services whatsoever.  For example, members of a fraternity are allowed to wear clothing displaying the fraternity’s Greek letters to show they are members of the fraternity.  But, the fraternity’s members aren’t permitted to sell clothing (or any other items) bearing the Greek letters.

What’s the Purpose and Function of a Collective Trademark?

On the other hand, a collective trademark is used by members of a collective organization (i.e. an association, cooperative, union, or other collective group) to identify their own products/services and to distinguish them from those of non-members.  The collective organization itself owns the collective trademark for the benefit of all its members.  It’s responsible for controlling the use of the collective trademark by its members and must ensure that its members continue to meet its standards for admission.  The collective organization itself doesn’t sell any products or render and services under the collective trademark, but it will often advertise and promote the products/services provided by its members under the collective trademark.

So, as you can see, collective trademarks both identify the source of products/services and indicate that the party providing the products/services is a member of the collective organization and meets the organization’s standards for admission.

What are Some Examples?

Because collective trademarks are fairly uncommon, it’s difficult to give you a list of collective trademarks that you would know and recognize.  Having said that, one well-known example is FTD, which is owned by Florists’ Transworld Delivery and is used by its member florists to indicate that they belong to the FTD network and that they provide florist services.  One lesser-known example is APPLE COUNTRY, which is owned by the New York Apple Association and is used by its member apple growers to indicate that they belong to the association and that they provide apples grown in New York State.  Consumers seeking flowers or apples may specifically look for FTD or APPLE COUNTY in member advertising or on product packaging because they perceive those collective trademarks as badges of quality and consistency.

Can I Protect a Collective Trademark?

You can federally register a collective trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) just like you can any other type of mark.  In fact, the USPTO provides an application form specifically designed for collective trademarks that can be completed and submitted online.  Needless to say, I strongly recommend working with a trademark attorney to avoid the many non-correctable errors you could make in filling out the application.  However, if you want to give it a try yourself, please at least first read Section 1303 of the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP) before working on the application form.

Do You Still Have Questions?

I’m experienced US trademark attorney Morris Turek.   If you’re still a little confused about collective trademarks and how they differ from traditional trademarks, please don’t hesitate to contact me for some more information.  You may call me at (314) 749-4059, send an email to morris@yourtrademarkattorney.com, or use the contact form located near the bottom of this page.  I look forward to hearing from you soon.