Certification and prohibited trademarks

A certification mark is any word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination thereof owned by one party who certifies the goods and services of others when they meet certain standards. The owner of the mark exercises control over the use of the mark; however, because the sole purpose of a certification mark is to indicate that certain standards have been met, use of the mark is by others.

Examples of certification trademarks in South Africa are:

  • The Woolmark


  • SABS (South African Bureau of Standards)


  • The Proudly South African campaign


A prohibited mark occurs from time to time when the Minister gives notice that certain marks are absolutely or conditionally prohibited for use. This can take the form of words, letters, letter combinations, initials and devices. An example of a prohibited mark is the phrase WORLD WILD LIFE FUND. Another is the peace sign:


You also cannot apply for a trademark which may contain any state symbol like the flag or any state emblem like the coat of arms. This rule pertains to both nationally and internationally recognised symbols and emblems.

Some exceptions may occur, but unless you want to spend a lot of money on specialist advice, rather steer clear of including any of these elements in your trademark application or brand promotion. It is just not worth the trouble you most certainly will pick up.

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