Intellectual property matters are rarely straightforward. So, it should be no surprise that the United States Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) has 45 different classifications for trademark registration. Thirty-four of them involve goods, and 11 involve services. Moreover, the classifications are not always intuitive.
Picking the right classifications
The USPTO uses classes to help distinguish between different kinds of trademark usage. Applicants must pick the right classification or classifications. These range from clothing lines to coffee beans, financial services to cleaning services, and sometimes the applicant must choose more than one classification. It is crucial to pick the correct classifications because these are the classes in which the trademark provides protection. This allows different applicants to have protection in their chosen areas but not others.
So this enables two businesses to use the same trademarked name or similar logo, but they are in different classes. Hence, we get usage like:
- Delta Airlines and Delta Faucets
- Columbia Records and Columbia Sportswear
- McDonald’s restaurant and McDonald’s Liquor
In cases like these, there is no infringement because these businesses are so different from each other. Even if they are in the same class, the trademark application can still get approved if they are not competing products or services. The bottom line is that there must be no consumer confusion. The same would also apply to logos, so hundreds of businesses could use a similar bumblebee logo.
What if the application has the wrong classifications?
The short answer is that the USPTO will deny the application and not return the fee. This can be a loss of several hundred dollars and a waste of several months doing the work and waiting for approval. After applying, there may also be trouble if the applicant starts using the potential trademark only to find out that someone else in the correct classification owns the trademark.
It is best not to take chances
Applicants who are unsure of what to do still have the option to consult with attorneys who can guide the client through the entire process. This often gives the applicant the best chance for success and the strongest trademark protection in all the correct classifications.