A little over two years ago, 3-A Sanitary Standards Inc. (3-A SSI) became aware that some companies from China were using the trademarked 3-A Symbol without authorization. Since then, the number of infringements has grown — as of August 2018, there were 18 known companies using the symbol in a fraudulent manner. This continuing problem threatens the integrity of the 3-A Symbol and exposes food manufacturers to the risk of purchasing equipment that doesn’t conform to expected hygienic design standards.
Interestingly, we first learned about the problem around the middle of 2016 from several of our symbol licensees in China. The number of properly licensed companies in China has grown over the past 10 years, and deep concern was expressed about the counterfeiters.
We have license holders in 24 countries outside the United States, and 3-A Sanitary Standards and Accepted Practices are purchased and used in food processing operations worldwide. The license shows that the company’s equipment has been inspected at the production facility to verify that it conforms to the 3-A Sanitary Standard for that equipment. The 3-A Symbol has been used and trusted in the marketplace since 1956.
The infringing actions we see range from using the 3-A Symbol indiscriminately on a complete online product catalog to making various false claims about 3-A certification or displaying a bogus certificate. Some infringers even display the FDA logo on equipment information. These scammers are very adept at false advertising.
3-A SSI has launched several actions to combat this problem. When we first discovered the problem, we created a “Buyer Beware” section on our website, which lists the companies we know about that are making false or misleading claims. We also hired a firm in China to register our mark in the China Trademark Office (TMO).
Unfortunately, we’ve encountered a number of objections we consider patently unreasonable. Most recently, we were turned down on the basis that 3-A is not a “competent organization” to certify food processing equipment, despite the fact that we have a long history of working in tandem with FDA and USDA on equipment standards. Subsequently, we were told that our mark looks too much like preexisting marks, which were registered in the interim period after we had been denied registration. The China TMO also requested that we hand over all of our copyrighted published standards to even be considered for a trademark. We haven’t received a final determination from them yet on our applications.
We’ve also started a very aggressive campaign to gain the attention of our government officials, including the U.S. Trade Representative, USDA, FDA, the Department of Commerce and state authorities. We even sent a representative to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to make sure U.S. officials at the highest levels are aware of what’s going on. We anticipate taking some additional actions soon to request that trade authorities in the United States take strong steps to address this problem.
How can food processors and manufacturers protect themselves by ensuring that the 3-A Symbol on the equipment they buy is valid? First, request a copy of the 3-A certificate from equipment suppliers. Then go to our website and search the 3-A Symbol Holder Database, which is a registry of all companies that hold a valid, current license to use and display the 3-A Symbol. You may search the database by the certificate number, company name or type of equipment and find out immediately if their license is valid.
We also encourage everyone to let us know if they become aware of someone using our mark or making a false claim about 3-A authorization so we can add that information to our “Buyer Beware” page.