I work with a company that wants to start a certificate program and issue its holders the right to use a series of post-nominal letters (Such as PhD - Not actually PhD, I use this as an example)

In the United States, is there any legal requirement for an organization to obtain before issue certificates and post-nominal letters?

The area of certification is not related to healthcare, education, military, etc. It is not a highly regulated area.

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    As far as I know, there are no requirements, and anyone has the right to use any letters they want, whether or not anyone else has "issued" them. But your company will have to get an actual lawyer if they want to know for sure. Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 22:10
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    The post-nominal letters better not conflict with any laws in effect wherever the certificate-holders live or work which reserve certain letters to those with certain licenses. Also, the people setting up the program should check to see that the program doesn't violate any rules concerning educational institutions (the company might become an educational institution without realizing it). Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 13:13

1 Answer 1


Usually, an issuing authority that runs the certification program obtains a trademark/service mark over its designation (e.g. CFP(R) for Certified Financial Planner), and then licenses its use exclusively to people who have earned the designation, administers eligibility for the certificate, and polices misuse of the trademark/service mark via cease and desist letters and civil lawsuits. This has also been done by a professional association for the professional title "Realtor(R)".

Similar approaches are used for vendor certifications such as UL for Underwriter's Labs and BBB for Better Business Bureau approved.

In the absence of other legislation governing professional regulation in the field, no government approval is necessary to set up the scheme. But, there are some regulated professions (e.g. law and medicine) which routinely regulate the advertising of specialities and certifications by members of their professions who are regulated.

None of these would be proper to use on an official identification card in most cases.

This is much less strict than, for example, Germany, where this kind of thing is tightly regulated.

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