Filing Activity Analysis: Supplements on the rise
The 11th (2020) Edition of the Nice Classification describes Class 5 as “mainly pharmaceuticals and other preparations for medical or veterinary purposes”.
When most people hear the word “pharmaceuticals” in the context of trademarks, they think of traditional areas of medicine such as cancer, vaccines, antibiotics, diabetes and heart disease or perhaps revolutionary developments such as gene therapy and biosimilars.
However, analysis of the goods terms used in trademark applications on major registers suggests that our perceptions may need to be revised.
Supplements take over US Class 05 filing activity
Looking at applications filed in Class 5 at the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) since 2010, the term “supplement” has been the most frequently used term in the goods description each year, with more applications filed for “supplements” than for “pharmaceuticals”.
Applications for products covering specific traditional and emerging therapeutic areas (e.g. oncology, diabetes, vaccines) each appear only in a very small number of applications each year (see Figure 1).
Filing activity in Class 5 is growing, from 14,600 applications in 2010 to nearly 26,000 applications in 2019. However, the growth is being driven by applications for “supplements,” particularly since 2016, with an annual increase of nearly 20%.
Pharmaceuticals no longer dominate Class 05 filings in Europe
The picture at the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) is the same – “supplements” is the most frequently used term in trademark applications in Class 5, overtaking the term “pharmaceutical” in 2018.
It accounts for most of the growth seen in Class 5 in recent years. Applications using terms such as “oncology” and “antibiotic” are filed only in low volume and do not show significant growth (see Figure 2).
In fact, on major registers around the world, Class 5 applications covering “supplements” have become not just the dominant application type but have now actually exceeded applications for “pharmaceuticals” on the US, UK and EU registers.
Since 2017 – 2018 – the term is now included in more than half of all applications. The WIPO International Registration system currently receives more applications that specify “pharmaceuticals” than “supplements,” but the gap is closing rapidly (see Figure 3).
Time to adjust pharmaceutical trademark search strategies?
Class 5 has traditionally been regarded as the pharmaceutical class, but current filing activity suggests that it would be more accurate to describe it as the class for supplements.
As supplement products start to dominate major registers in Class 5, pharmaceutical companies looking to clear and register trademarks for medical and veterinary products may need to reconsider their search and filing strategies to navigate the increasingly non-medical clutter.