Under Article 81 of the Legislative Decree on Trademarks and Quality Services Certificates (59/2010), which implemented the EU Internal Market Services Directive (2006/123/EC), the Ministry of Economic Development has created an official database for Italian certification trademarks (available at http://tinyurl.com/c4gp7uv).
A trademark may consist of any sign that is capable of being represented graphically, provided that such sign is capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one undertaking from those of another. The proper identification of goods or services with a prominent mark serves a number of purposes:
- It has a distinctive and communicative function.
- It shows the provenance of products and services.
- It guarantees uniformity in quality.
- It can guide consumers in their purchasing decisions.
Point 102 of the directive provides that:
“In order to increase transparency and promote assessments based on comparable criteria with regard to the quality of the services offered and supplied to recipients, it is important that information on the meaning of quality labels and other distinctive marks relating to these services be easily accessible. That obligation of transparency is particularly important in areas such as tourism, especially the hotel business, in which the use of a system of classification is widespread.”
In application of these guidelines, Article 81 of the legislative decree states that:
"public or private entities which establish trademarks and other quality certifications relating to services or are responsible for their assignment to other companies, make available to the latter, by publication on its website, information on the meaning of the marks and the criteria for applying trademarks and other quality certificates, at the same time giving notice to the Ministry of Economic Development."
The rule refers to trademarks granted to entities in order to guarantee the origin, nature or quality of certain services. Although the database envisaged by the directive focuses on certification trademarks for services, some of the trademarks listed are also used for products, particularly in the food and beverage sector. These trademarks belong not to those that use them, but to the body which applied for them and which allows their use by parties which possess the necessary prerequisites and respect the conditions of use.
In light of this legislative landscape, the Ministry of Economic Development has established a voluntary registration programme in order to establish the first Italian certification trademark database. Most of the signs included in the database are registered as Italian or Community trademarks, but some – particularly those regarding local ventures – are unregistered marks. Any entity with a certification trademark that wishes to join the initiative need only contact the ministry, informing of it of the trademark's characteristics. The ministry does not guarantee the accuracy and validity of the data contained in the database – it does not constitute a legal certification. The aim of the tool is to direct the choices made by companies and consumers.
The database can be searched using different criteria:
- The nature of the mark (either general for all services or specific for services in a particular commercial field) – nearly 88% of the trademarks included are specific, and most concern touristic and catering services.
- Geographical extension (either local or national) – extensions at national level are rare, as around 92% of the signs have only a local extension.
- Content – this refers to which quality of the service is guaranteed by the sign (eg, the fact that the service complies with environmental rules).
- Type of management of the mark (public or private, and an indication of the number of entities adhering to the certification trademark system) – the number of entities adhering to each trademark system varies widely; from just four to five for local trademarks to, for example, more than 5,000 for the trademark ITALIAN HOSPITALITY.
In future, the database is expected to be increasingly supported by companies in order to extend the quantity and quality of information at consumers' disposal. This system will increase the value of the trademarks included, since the public will be inclined to rely on services marketed using such signs. In addition, this system will help the strategic use of trademarks by companies.
This article first appeared in IAM magazine. For further information please visit www.iam-magazine.com.