In order to apply for a U.S. trademark, you must specify the category of goods or services the trademark will be used for. Discover why choosing the right trademark class is so crucial.
While researching how to trademark your business name, logo, or other intellectual property, you may have heard that you need to select a class of goods or services when registering with the PTTO.
The trademark classes you identify on your application will protect your trademark only in the class you have identified. Classifications of trademarks can be confusing. Your product or service may not fit into all of them.
Understanding Trademark Classes
All goods and services are classified into 45 trademark classes by the USPTO, 34 for goods and 11 for services. Many goods or services fall under each class, but their names aren’t always clear. Class 25 (clothing) includes items such as aprons, dresses, t-shirts, socks, and shoes. Meat, fish, and poultry are classified in class 29 (meat, fish, poultry), while coffee, flour, and rice are classified in class 30 (coffee, flour, rice), along with popcorn, spices, ice cream, and cereal.
Goods and services do not belong to the same category. Therefore, if you sell coffee bags to grocery stores, your product falls under class 30. In contrast, if you run a cafe, you provide a food service that falls under class 43. You may need to register in both classes depending on your business (if you sell roasted beans at your coffee shop, for instance).
Your trademark application must specify which classes of goods or services your trademark will protect, as well as which goods or services you provide. As long as you name only those goods, services, and classes in your trademark application, your trademark will protect them.
As an example, suppose you make handcrafted tables and chairs, and you register your trademark under class 20, furniture. Once you start making wooden serving spoons, your trademark won’t protect them because they’re in a different class – class 21, for household utensils. Separate trademark applications are required to protect your spoons.
Why Trademark Classes Are Important
In addition to providing a guideline for trademark registration, trademark classification can also help you identify potential trademark infringers.
A trademark that is confusingly similar to a trademark that has already been registered won’t be registered by the USPTO. The marks must be similar to be confusingly similar. A consumer may be confused about the source of goods or services if they apply to related goods or services as well. Despite their unrelatedness, “Dove” ice cream bars and “Dove” soap can both be registered trademarks because they are unlikely to be confused with each other.
A trademark office can identify similar marks that have been registered for related goods or services based on the class and description of a product. Nevertheless, similar marks in your class will not necessarily invalidate your trademark registration if the products are unrelated. Cosmetics and cleansers, for instance, fall into class 2, but false eyelashes and toilet bowl cleaner are unlikely to come from the same place.
There may also be confusing similarities between products or services from different categories. In class 30, popcorn and cereal-based snacks may appear confusingly similar to potato chips in class 29.
The use of trademark classes helps registered trademark owners search for and monitor new trademark applications and identify potential infringers, as well as facilitate the registration process.
Is it Possible to Choose the Wrong Trademark Class?
Trademark offices may deny your registration if you select the incorrect trademark class, and your registration fee will not be refunded. It is therefore possible to spend several hundred dollars and several months if you choose the wrong class.
Once your trademark is registered, choosing the wrong class can also lead to trouble. You may unknowingly infringe someone else’s trademark if you use your trademark for a class of goods or services for which it is not registered. In either case, the USPTO may allow a competitor to register a similar mark in the same class as yours – giving them superior rights to that mark.
It is not possible to switch your trademark class if you realize you have registered it in the wrong one. Neither goods nor services can be switched. A new trademark registration is required instead.
Selecting the right trademark class is important, but it’s not always straightforward. A trademark search can help you determine how similar products or services have been classified, and it will allow you to identify any registered marks that are confusingly similar to your own. A trademark attorney can provide additional assistance if necessary.