Have you ever wondered how businesses with similar names can legally coexist? Next time you see brands with similar marks, take note of their industry, products, and services. It is very likely that both businesses have registered trademarks – but they are registered in different categories called “classes.”
The USPTO uses classes to keep the pool of viable marks from shrinking exponentially each year. Imagine if the McDonald’s fast food chain had a monopoly on the name “McDonald” – preventing family-run hardware stores, toy makers, or any non-food-related business from using any form of “McDonald.” We would quickly run out of room for new businesses in the trademark space.
How Classes Work
The USPTO has divided types of trademarks into 45 classes total – 34 classes for products and 11 classes for services. Each class is a broad umbrella with more specific listings beneath it.
For instance, Class 3 is “Cosmetics and Cleaning Products.” You can see how that category runs a wide gamut, from mascara to bleach.
This is part of why trademark applications can be so tricky to get right the first time. For instance, if your company sells a loofah made with activated charcoal, would you register your mark under Class 3? Or perhaps Class 22, “Ropes, Cordage, and Fiber Products”? It is intended for beautifying, but the product itself is a fibrous material.
You can see how business owners may struggle to correctly categorize what they offer – especially if their product or service is something innovative that combines fields.
Multi-Class or Single Class, That Is the Question
The naturally leads to a fork in the road for each trademark registration: Do you want your application to cover multiple classes or just one class?
You might assume that you should register in as many classes as could hypothetically apply, to get ahead of the game. But that could be a leap too far. Keep in mind that each class complicates the application.
Each class is an opportunity for denial from the USPTO, and it makes change less agile. Going back to our loofah example, if your health brand stops making loofahs as its only Class 22 product, that loss could nullify the whole registration of your business’s mark.
On the other hand, if you pay for individual applications in each class, you may do so over time as your products and services expand. It does cost more in application fees – but your mark’s registration is less locked into one particular form. Adding and dropping classes can be more flexible in this method.
Get Strategic IP Help Sooner Than Later
You likely understand by now that trademark classes are one of the prominent factors that make trademark applications complex. To save wasted rounds of applications fees, it is helpful to have an IP attorney at least review your completed application – if not guide you through the whole process with greater efficiency. The story of the ant preparing for winter encapsulates a valuable lesson of the IP world: investing in forethought pays off!