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O Collective! My Collective!

Posted by James Juo | Feb 24, 2023 | 0 Comments

A “collective” (such as an association, union, cooperative, fraternal organization, or other organized collective group) may own trademarks for marketing the collective's own goods or services, like any other entity.

However, there also are two types of “collective marks.” See 15 U.S.C. § 1127.

Collective Trademark

A collective trademark or collective service mark is a mark “for use only by its members, who in turn use the mark to identify their goods or services and distinguish them from those of nonmembers.” Aloe Crème Labs., Inc. v. Am. Soc'y for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Inc., 192 USPQ 170, 173 (TTAB 1976). This is not for use with the goods or services of the collective itself, but “the collective may advertise or otherwise promote the goods or services sold or rendered by its members under the mark.” Id. For example, NAPA® is a collective trademark for the National Automotive Parts Association (a retailers' cooperative) for automotive parts, fluids, and coatings.

Collective Membership Mark

A collective membership mark is a mark for indicating membership in the collective. “Neither the collective nor its members uses the collective membership mark to identify and distinguish goods or services; rather, the sole function of such a mark is to indicate that the person displaying the mark is a member of the organized collective group.” Aloe Crème, 192 USPQ at 173. For example, AAA® is a collective membership mark of American Automobile Association, Inc., and members of that collective organization may carry membership cards bearing that collective membership mark.

Simply put, a collective membership mark is used by its members. In re Triangle Club of Princeton Univ., 138 USPQ 332 (TTAB 1963) (collective membership mark registration denied because specimen did not show use of mark by members).

The sole purpose of a collective membership mark is to indicate membership in an organization. While goods or services may be provided by the members of an organization, a collective membership mark, as used or displayed by the members of an organization, serves only to identify the fact that such members belong to the collective organization and to inform relevant persons of the members' association with the organization.

In re Code Consultants Inc., 60 USPQ2d 1699, 1700 (TTAB 2001).

While the collective may own the collective membership mark and exercise control over the use of the mark—the collective “does not itself use the mark to indicate membership.” TMEP § 1304.02(a)(i)(C). A proper specimen of use for a collective membership mark is one that shows “use by members to indicate membership in the collective organization.” Id. (citing 37 C.F.R. §2.56(b)(4); In re Int'l Ass'n for Enterostomal Therapy, Inc., 218 USPQ 343 (TTAB 1983); In re Triangle Club of Princeton Univ., 138 USPQ 332 (TTAB 1963)).

Improper Specimen for THE TABLE COALITION Collective Membership Mark

Mission America Coalition, dba The Table Coalition, filed an application for registration on the Principal Register of THE TABLE COALITION as a collective membership mark, identifying the following services: “Indicating membership in a(n) to indicate membership in a group of church leaders, senior church members, ministers, independent evangelical preachers, and other evangelical principals to promote and support evangelistic activities.”

The specimen of use submitted for THE TABLE COALITION as a collective membership mark, however, was the business card of the collective's Director of Ministry whose job duties included soliciting new members. In re Mission America Coalition, Ser. No. 90019480 (TTAB Feb. 17, 2023).

The Examining Attorney rejected the business card as a specimen because it was used by the parent organization, and not by a member of the organization to indicate membership in the organization. The business card was for the collective organization itself, and not a member.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) agreed that a business card of an officer of the collective organization, for use by the collective organization, is not a specimen of a collective membership mark used by its members to indicate membership in the collective organization.

Thus, the TTAB affirmed the refusal to register the applied-for THE TABLE COALITION collective membership mark.

Thomas P. Howard, LLC is experienced in trademarks nationwide including in Colorado.

About the Author

James Juo

James Juo is an experienced intellectual property attorney. He has successfully litigated various intellectual property disputes involving patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets. He also has counseled clients on the scope and validity of patent and trademark rights.


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