China trademark subclasses.
China trademark subclasses. It’s complicated.

Our China trademark lawyers are often asked about the difference between the Nice Classification system for trademarks and China’s trademark subclass system. They are related, but quite different.

The Nice Classification system is an international classification of goods and services that separates all possible goods and services into 45 classes: 34 classes for goods and 11 classes for services. The classification was first established in 1957 by the Nice Agreement Concerning the International Classification of Goods and Services for the Purposes of the Registration of Marks, and is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). A large number of Western and industrialized countries use this system, including the US, Mexico, the EU, the post-Soviet Republics, China, Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. (But not Canada!) In theory, and mostly in practice, the common classification system makes it much easier to file the same trademark in multiple countries, either through the Paris Convention or Madrid System. The Nice Classification also underpins the trademark fee structure; in most countries, the cost of a trademark application is determined in large part by the number of classes.

China’s subclass system is an overlay of the Nice Classification system. As we wrote in China Trademark Classes and Orange Crush(ed),

One of the more distinctive aspects of China’s trademark system is its unique interpretation of the Nice Classification system. China divides each Nice class into subclasses, and treats each subclass as a discrete unit. A trademark registration gives the owner rights in the covered subclasses, but virtually no rights in any other subclasses. (For further discussion of this feature, see China Trademarks. Register Them in China not Madrid.)

The Nice Classification system includes a list of specific goods and service for each of the 45 classes. Each one of those goods and services has a six-digit “Basic Number” which begins with the two-digit Class number. For instance, Class 15 covers musical instruments, and the list of goods in Class 15 includes accordions (Basic Number 150001), pianos (Basic Number 150008), and tuning forks (Basic Number 150033).

China took the Basic Numbers and produced its own list, identifying for each Class the subclasses and the Basic Numbers in each subclass. For instance, Class 15 has 2 subclasses: subclass 1501 includes musical instruments, and subclass 1502 includes accessories and parts for musical instruments. As you might imagine, pianos and accordions are in subclass 1501, and tuning forks are in subclass 1502.

But Class 15 is a fairly straightforward example. Class 09 is a bear. The summary description from WIPO is “Scientific, nautical, surveying, photographic, cinematographic, optical, weighing, measuring, signalling, checking (supervision), life-saving and teaching apparatus and instruments; apparatus and instruments for conducting, switching, transforming, accumulating, regulating or controlling electricity; apparatus for recording, transmission or reproduction of sound or images; magnetic data carriers, recording discs; compact discs, DVDs and other digital recording media; mechanisms for coin-operated apparatus; cash registers, calculating machines, data processing equipment, computers; computer software; fire-extinguishing apparatus.”

China has divided Class 09 into 24 subclasses, as follows:

0901   Computers and external devices

0902   Recording and counting machines

0903   Other office machines not considered printers or copiers

0904   Weighing machines

0905   Measuring instruments

0906   Signaling instruments

0907   Electrommunication and navigational instruments

0908   Audio equipment

0909   Machines and instruments for photography and films

0910   Measuring instruments, lab instruments, electronic measuring instruments, scientific instruments

0911   Optical instruments

0912   Material used for the transmission of electricity

0913   Crystal, electric and carbon materials, electronics and electronic components

0914   Electrical appliances and controlling devices

0915   Electroplating apparatus

0916   Extinguishers

0917   Electric arc cutting and welding devices

0918   Industrial X-ray machines and devices

0919   Safety/rescue instruments

0920   Alarm devices, electronic bells

0921   Glasses and accessories

0922   Batteries and chargers

0923   Cinematographic film and exposed material

0924   Other items not included in the above sub-classes

Yeah, it’s complicated. Most of the classes fall somewhere in between the simplicity of Class 15 and the complexity of Class 09. But the main point to understand is that Basic Numbers refer to specific goods or services, whereas subclasses refer to a subset of goods or services in each Class that is (in theory) a discrete subset of goods or services that is defined by the Basic Numbers for the goods/services in that subclass.