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New State Trademark Filings Eliminate Goods and Services Descriptions

The Secretary of State quietly changed an important feature of Washington State trademark filings. They re-did their application form for trademark registrations. And, in doing so, they eliminated the applicant’s description of its branded goods and services.

So now, it’s possible to claim the entirety of a classification. Rather than say “Class 35 - Retail clothing store services,” for example, applicants now are prompted to just identify “Class 35 - Advertising & Business.”

It’s a curious departure from U.S. Patent and Trademark Office practice, which requires applicants to specify the goods and services for which they seek expanded rights. It’s closer to foreign trademark schemes that only recognize rights if a mark is registered. In those registration-based countries — which make up most of the world, but differ from use-based countries like the States — it’s common for applicants to list all imaginable goods and services in an effort to occupy the field for a particular trademark.

I thought this change was strange, so I asked about it. Washington’s trademark office told me it was intended to bring Washington’s filing scheme more in line with the authorizing statute.

In the end, Washington’s trademark statute is the same, so trademark rights presumably are the same. Trademark owners are protected against a “likelihood of confusion” with later-adopted marks, and a state registration certificate gives the presumption of trademark rights statewide. But do these rights now encompass the entirety of a class if that’s what’s listed on the registration certificate? Or are they limited to the branded goods and services the registrant actually provides in commerce? It’s not clear.

For now, applicants will likely be motivated to claim the entirety of a class (or multiple classes) if they’re not forced to limit their claim to the particular goods and services they sell. After all, more seems better than less. When enforcing one’s rights, however, I imagine courts will pare back overly broad claims to reflect how the mark is actually used.

It’s just a little curious the State has broken with the USPTO’s identification requirements in issuing trademark registrations in favor of those more frequently seen abroad. The uncertainty the new scheme introduces seems like a shame.

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