One of the more bewildering aspects of a trademark application is describing the goods and services the mark will identify. In this post we look at how the USPTO classifies goods and services for trademark applications. We have another blog article if you’re interested in that other bewildering aspect of trademark law called Likelihood of Confusion.
Why do goods and services matter?
A trademark identifies the source of goods or services: when you see “McDonalds,” you think restaurants; when you see “Nike,” you think shoes. In fact, a trademark can be thought of as consisting of two parts: the mark itself, and the goods or services it identifies.
Because trademarks are associated with specific goods or services, the same words can be trademarked for different services. For example, there are over 100 live registrations or applications for the word “DELTA,” covering all manner of goods and services, including woodworking machines, building insulation, paint brushes, watches, metal detectors, air transportation, and soccer balls, just to name a few. Just think about that for a minute: There are over a hundred different companies or people, all using the same trademark “DELTA”.
What are classes?
Because a trademark’s significance lies in its association with a particular set of goods or services, describing those goods and services is one of the most important parts of the application. The USPTO requires trademark applications to include a description of the goods and services the mark will identify. To help organize the millions of registered trademarks, the USPTO organizes different types of goods and services into “classes.” There are 45 classes: 34 for goods, and 11 for services. The number is called the “class code” or “class number,” while the text describing the class is simply called the “class” or “title”.
In theory, similar goods (or services) will be found in the same class. For example, most clothing belongs in Class 025. Alcoholic beverages (other than beer) belongs in Class 034. Jewelry will typically belong in Class 014. Often, a trademark will belong in more than one class. For example, NIKE is registered for shoes (class 025), glasses (class 009), and golf clubs (class 028), among many other classes. While it is sometimes obvious what class a particular good or service belongs to (t-shirts will be in class 025), it can occasionally be different to select the appropriate classes (wall hangings belong in different classes depending on what they are made of, and they are different than wall coverings).
The class system used by the USPTO is based on the “Nice Classification,” an international trademark classification system maintained by the World Intellectual Property Organization. Within each class, the Nice Classification and the USPTO provides hundreds of specific pre-approved descriptions. If none of these are appropriate, you can draft your own. The USPTO has a very nice Public ID Master List for Trademarks that provides searching by description.
Why Do Classes Matter?
To the business person, it can be hard to see why any of this matters. The most important reason, of course, is that correctly classifying your mark and describing your goods and services is necessary to obtain a valid trademark registration. Getting this wrong could affect your rights when it comes time to enforce your mark, even if you’re successful in registering your mark. Less importantly, the USPTO charges a fee for each class that your mark is associated with. The USPTO fee for a mark that is only used for clothing (class 025) could be as low as $225. The same mark used for clothing and eyeglasses (classes 025 and 009) would cost at least $450.
Describing your goods and services can be simple or complex. A good trademark attorney can help. Those Internet companies offering cheap trademark registration services simply cannot offer you the help needed to get the classes and descriptions of your trademark right. When considering hiring someone or a company to help you, make sure properly licensed trademark attorneys will actually work on your trademark application.