The Importance of Trademark Protection

By Steve Nunn, President and CEO, The Open Group

I recently wrote a blog entitled ‘Why the Court of Master Sommeliers Made the Right Decision‘ in which I stressed the importance of program integrity in the world of certification. A number of people have asked me subsequently about how The Open Group goes about building our certification programs, and how we achieve and maintain that integrity. Well the short answer is practice and experience! We’ve been in the certification business for over quarter of a century now – initially, product certifications (what became our UNIX® Certification Program), through best practices, training courses, software tools, and, of course, people certification. Indeed, it is perhaps this last type of certification for which we are now most well-known. Not surprising, really, when you consider that we have now certified more than 100,000 individuals around the world for their knowledge of our TOGAF® standard.

If the interest is there, I will probably write a short series of blogs on what is involved in constructing these programs. However, for now, I want to focus on one ingredient that I consider vital to all our programs – trademark protection. Whatever the scope of the certification program, it is important that the program has teeth – back to the integrity point. How do you ensure, as a certification authority, that you have an effective way of ensuring that only those people who, or products which, have earned it can get the benefit of the certification. After all, whether or not a person or product is certified is a matter of fact – either we have certified that person or product or we haven’t. It is black and white, with no room for grey areas.

Over the years, we have found that underpinning our certification programs with registered trademarks is an effective way of protecting the integrity of the programs. Registered trademarks are, in effect, legal monopolies – only the trademark owner, and those authorized by that owner may use the trademark. That is a matter of law. So, when a person or product is certified under one of our programs, that individual or product owner is granted a license to use the appropriate trademark associated with that certification program. Indeed, it is always heartening to see individuals using these trademarks on their email signatures, business cards, and social media profiles. They have earned the right to use the mark – so why not?! It helps them distinguish themselves from those who have not earned the right.

So, how does the trademark help? Well, it makes it much simpler, quicker, and cheaper to enforce the program against those who would use the mark but have not been granted the right to do so. Use in connection with an uncertified person or product is a breach of trademark law – a black and white legal remedy for a black and white situation. Legal teeth to protect the integrity of the program.

As I said, The Open Group has been in the certification business for some time now, and we have quite a number of programs. However, you will see a great deal of consistency in how these programs are constructed, including the way in which we use our trademarks. You will typically see the “Open O and check” Certification Mark, with a program qualifier, typically below it – such as UNIX®, TOGAF®, ArchiMate®, IT4IT™, Open FAIR™, etc. An example would be:

In this case, the program marks themselves are protected and, thus, enforceable. However, as of the end of last year, the “Open O” and “Open O and check” Certification Mark both became registered trademarks in the U.S. We tend to reserve the “Open O and check” mark for use in connection with certification, so, now, any of our programs utilizing that mark will have registered trademark protection, regardless of the program qualifier.

I don’t want to bore you with the legal aspects of how a trademark becomes registered but, rest assured, it is often a lengthy process, in multiple geographies, requiring patience, tenacity, and experience – not to mention some degree of expense. However, for a certification authority, it makes perfect sense, and is hard to be without. Congratulations to The Open Group Legal Team on these latest additions to our portfolio!

So, to any of you reading this who have a trademark license from The Open Group to use in connection with your certification – firstly, congratulations – and secondly, know that those trademarks are pivotal to protecting the integrity of the program that you have invested your time and money in. Use them with pride. 🙂

Steve Nunn is President and CEO of The Open Group – a global consortium that enables the achievement of business objectives through technology standards. He is also President of the Association of Enterprise Architects (AEA).

Steve joined The Open Group in 1993, spending the majority of his time as Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel.   He was also CEO of the AEA from 2010 until 2015.

Steve is a lawyer by training, has an L.L.B. (Hons) in Law with French and retains a current legal practicing certificate.  Having spent most of his life in the UK, Steve has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2007. He enjoys spending time with his family, walking, playing golf, 80s music, and is a lifelong West Ham United fan.