This comes as a bit of a shock to many people and to many people’s pocketbooks (if you don’t know what you’re doing) but when you apply for your trademark, you are only applying for it in reference to a specific set of things or services. So, if you happen to be a business that sells t-shirts, provides advertising and graphic design services, and makes beer, then you would probably have to apply for three separate classes which means three filing fees (it can add up).
However, that is also why Delta Faucets and Delta Airlines can co-exist. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has decided that they are in different “classes.” Why do they do this? Because…
The applicant must identify the goods and services specifically to provide public notice and to enable the USPTO to classify the goods and services properly and to reach informed judgments concerning likelihood of confusion under 15 U.S.C. §1052(d).
Once you break that down, it means that the USPTO feels that I’m unlikely to go to the Home Depot to pick up my Delta Faucet and think to myself, “daaaaaaang, Delta Airlines makes faucets!?” Or unlikely, as I’m buying a ticket to go on a beachin’ weekend, to think, “I hate Delta Faucets! I bought one once and it totally made an annoying ‘drip-drip’ noise throughout the night. I’m never flying Delta again!”
It (in theory) allows for people to use similar names as long as they’re not related or competing in the same market and it (in theory) helps the overworked Trademark examiner to do their job more efficiently.
I say “in theory” for a couple of reasons:
1) if you start the artisan Delta Cheese Company and start selling t-shirts and putting on your website, “let your tastebuds soar with our cheese in your mouth” or “fly away with our cheese” – Delta Airlines may still not appreciate it and try to get you to stop.
2) We help breweries who have issues with the USPTO telling them that beer and wine are related, leading to a rejected mark EVEN THOUGH the two goods are in different classes! WTF is up with that?
In sum, are trademark classes important? Yes. They help trademark applicants, lawyer-humans, and trademark examiners figure out what you’re up against in the brand department. They also make sure you’re protected for the right thing(s).
Will applying in the correct class guarantee that you are in the clear, though? No. Sorry. In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes (with love from Benjamin Franklin). With a lawyer-human on your side, though, you can navigate these uncertainties with a well-traveled guide.