EPA Helps Consumers Shop for Vehicles the SmartWay

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) SmartWay program educates consumers on the environmental impact of various transportation options.  The program includes a ratings system for vehicles, information on renewable fuel options and a project to reduce emissions in the freight and transport vehicle sector.

The centerpiece of the SmartWay program is the personal vehicle ratings and certification system.  The certification system features the EPA’s Green Vehicle Guide, which scores vehicles based on air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.  Vehicles that achieve a high enough score are SmartWay certified. (see the Greenbiz article)

A certifiable score means at least 6 out of a possible 10 for both the air pollution rating and the greenhouse gas emissions rating and that the two ratings combined add up to at least 13.  The air pollution rating is determined by how much the vehicle’s tailpipe emissions contribute to smog and health issues.  The greenhouse gas score is based on carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane emissions and is tied to the fuel economy of the vehicle.

The certification program uses the SmartWay logo, and the EPA owns two eco-marks for the logo.  Both incorporate a leaf with a road running along the stem and through the center of the leaf with dashed divider lines. 

U.S. Registration No. 3,220,604 (‘604 registration) (604registration.pdf) issued in March of 2007 for a certification mark that includes the words “US EPA Certified SmartWay” alongside the leaf component (see below).  The listing of goods covers “[v]ehicles, namely automobiles and trucks.”

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In July of last year, the EPA also applied to register a SmartWay service mark for educational materials and services and public awareness relating to cleaner and more efficient transportation options.  U.S. Application No. 77/225,038 (‘038 application) (038application.pdf) includes the same leaf component and the word “SmartWay” without the “US EPA Certified” language (pictured at the top of this post).

One interesting sidenote is that the EPA had a little trouble with its ‘038 application, which was rejected for being too similar to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s (WDOT) SmartWays trademark registration (smartwaysregistration.pdf).  The EPA overcame this problem by getting WDOT’s consent to the EPA’s use of its mark and entering into a concurrent use agreement with the state agency (responseandconsent.pdf).

In navigating the SmartWay web pages and discovering that the car I drive is SmartWay-certified, I noticed that the EPA seems to be misusing its SmartWay eco-marks.  The ‘604 registration logo (the one that includes the word “US EPA Certified”) is the certification mark, so it should be the one used to identify certified vehicles. 

However, the ‘604 registration logo is conspicuously absent from the vehicle certification sections of the EPA’s web site, which instead feature the simpler ‘038 application mark (pictured at the top of this post).  In addition, when one searches the Green Vehicle Guide, the leaf component alone appears beside the SmartWay certified vehicle listings. 

While the leaf component is arguably the key feature for consumer recognition purposes, the EPA probably should keep its SmartWay trademark house in better order and be more strict about using its certification mark for certification purposes.

Eric Lane Avatar

Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.