If you’ve been researching how to trademark your business name, logo or other intellectual property, you may have heard that you need to choose a class of goods or services when you register a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
These trademark classes are important because your trademark registration will only protect your trademark in the class that you’ve identified on your application. Trademark classes can be hard to understand. There are a lot of them, and it’s not always easy to tell where your product or service fits in.
Understanding Trademark Classes
The USPTO trademark classification system divides all goods and services into 45 trademark classes – 34 for goods and 11 for services. There are many goods or services that fall into each class, and they’re not always obvious from the class name. For example, class 25 (clothing) includes aprons, dresses, t-shirts, socks and shoes. Class 29 (meat, fish, poultry) includes meat and milk, but also jam and potato chips, while class 30 (coffee, flour, rice) includes popcorn, spices, ice cream and cereal in addition to coffee.
Goods and services are never lumped together in the same class. So if you sell bags of coffee to grocery stores, you’re selling a product that’s in class 30. But if you operate a café, you’re providing a service that belongs in class 43 (food services). Depending on your business (if you sell roasted beans at your coffee shop, for example), you may need to register in both classes.
When you file your trademark application, you must select the class of goods or services that your trademark will protect, and you must also identify the goods or services you provide. Your trademark will only protect the goods, services and class that you name in your application.
Suppose, for example, that you make handcrafted tables and chairs, and you register your trademark in class 20, for furniture. If you then start making wooden serving spoons, your trademark won’t protect your spoons because they’re in a different class – class 21, for household utensils. To protect your spoons, you’ll need to file a separate trademark application.
Why Trademark Classes Are Important
Trademark classification serves two functions: it provides a guideline for registering trademarks, and it can help you identify potential trademark infringers.
The USPTO won’t register a trademark that is confusingly similar to a mark that has already been registered. To be confusingly similar, the marks must be similar. They must also apply to related goods or services, so that a consumer might be confused about the source. “Dove” ice cream bars and “Dove” soap can both be registered trademarks because the products are so unrelated that it’s unlikely anyone would think they came from the same source.
The class and description of a product or service helps the trademark office identify similar marks that have been registered for related goods or services. However, a similar mark in your class won’t necessarily defeat your trademark registration if the products aren’t related. For example, cosmetics and cleansers are both in class 2, but it’s unlikely that anyone would think that false eyelashes and toilet bowl cleaner came from the same source.
At the same time, products or services from different categories may be confusingly similar. For example, potato chips, in class 29, might be confusingly similar to popcorn or a cereal-based snack food in class 30.
In addition to helping with the registration process, trademark classes make it easier for registered trademark owners to search for and monitor new trademark applications and identify potential infringers.
What If You Choose the Wrong Trademark Class?
If you choose the wrong trademark class, the trademark office may deny your registration, and you will not get your registration fee back. That means that choosing the wrong class can cost you several hundred dollars and several months of time.
Choosing the wrong class can also get you into trouble after your trademark is registered. If you are using your mark for a class of goods or services that it is not registered for, you could unwittingly be infringing someone else’s registered trademark. Or, the USPTO could allow a competitor to register a similar mark in the class you should have registered in – giving them trademark rights in that class that are superior to yours.
If you realize that you have registered your trademark in the wrong class, you can’t switch to another one later. Nor can you switch between goods and services. Instead, you’ll have to start over with a new trademark registration.
Selecting the correct trademark class is important, but it’s not always easy. Conducting a trademark search may help you see how similar products or services have been classified, and it will help you find any registered marks that may be confusingly similar to your mark. If you need additional help, you should seek advice from a trademark attorney.
If you need help choosing a trademark class, talk to a LegalZoom legal plan attorney. A legal plan attorney can answer your questions about choosing a trademark class. Avoid having your trademark application rejected by having an attorney who specializes in intellectual property help you choose the right trademark class.