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Trademark Search: What is It and How to Run One

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ContractsCounsel has assisted 12 clients with trademark searches and maintains a network of 33 intellectual property lawyers available daily.

What Is a Trademark Search?

A trademark search is a database search, usually conducted on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website, to determine whether a trademark is currently used in commerce. Trademarks are designs, words, phrases, logos, sounds, scents, or expressions that represent a company. Trademarks are considered intellectual property and should be protected.

If two trademarks for two separate companies are too similar, consumers will be confused and not know which goods are from which company. For this reason, there are laws in place that protect registered trademarks from being duplicated and prevent consumer confusion.

If a company would like to register a trademark, they first must search to make sure their design is not too similar to any other company’s trademark.

Trademark searches can be broken down into two types of searches. A “knock-out search” and a “full search”.

Knock-out Search: This is a preliminary search conducted by the applicant to identify any potential conflicts with existing trademarks. This search can include the Federal Trademark Register through USPTO. This will help you determine whether the trademark will be accepted during the trademark registration application process.

A knock-out search will search trademarks that are registered and that have been applied for but not yet registered. This search will show identical or close matches for the trademark.

Full Search: A full search is completed by a searching firm that will use specialized computer software to run and extensive trademark search. Some full searches can also be done manually by an intellectual property lawyer or trademark lawyer. Search results will include identical trademarks as well as close variations of the trademark. These reports can sometimes be hundreds of pages long and after they are compiled into a search report, an intellectual property lawyer or a trademark lawyer will review the results.

How Do I Run a Trademark Search?

It is good practice to run a preliminary search on your own before consulting with a professional. It is common to have your first or even second choice of trademark already registered and being used. If you can determine this with your own search, you will get more value from a professional when it is time to dig deeper.

To conduct a trademark search on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website, follow these steps:

Step 1: Go to the USPTO website. You will want to navigate to the USPTO website then find the Trademark Electronic Search System which is abbreviated as “TESS”. This can be found in the “tools” section.

The search system will only allow a certain number of users to run searches at a time. If you wait too long, you will be logged out of this page and will have to start again.

Step 2: Select your search option. Once you have logged onto TESS, you will select a search option. You can choose from the following options:

  • Basic Word Mark Search
  • Word and/or Design Mark Search (Structured)
  • Word and/or Design Mark Search (Free Form)
  • Browse Dictionary
  • Search OG Publication Date or Registration Date

It is recommended you use the Word and/or Mark Search (Free Form) because it provides the most search flexibility.

Step 3: Determine your search terms. You will now have to enter your mark into the “search term” box. Start with your exact mark first to see if you get an exact match and can eliminate that option for a trademark.

You will want to be sure that phrases are in quotes to narrow your search results. If you don’t have quotes, the search engine will return results for all words individually in the phrase rather than the phrase as a whole.

Step 4: Be thorough. When you submit a trademark application, your mark will be denied depending on the likelihood of confusion” with another registered mark. This means that you will not only have to search for your exact trademark, but also for any related trademarks that are too similar. You can do this by searching variations of your trademark. Try different spelling, abbreviations, and plurals.

Step 5: Expand your search to partial matches. If you haven’t found a direct knock-out yet, expand your search. You can use a prefix and postfix truncation search to see if the words in your mark turn up any partial matches. Remember these tips when searching for variations of your trademark:

  • Foreign words may have different spellings
  • Proper Names can be spelled in many ways
  • Check for vowel and consonant substitutions (using a “K” instead of a “C”)
  • Check for word and number substitutions
  • Look for common abbreviations (“EZ” instead of “easy”)
  • Use “$” or “?” in your search to represent optional characters
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Step 6: Review your records. After running all of your various searches, narrow down the results and review them. The TESS system will provide a summary list of records found. This summary will provide you with the record number, serial number, registration number, word mark, TARR, and whether the mark is “live” or “dead”, for each of your search results.

For each of your results you will be able to view the following information:

  • Image: This is the image of the trademark or pure word trademark
  • Word Mark: Any words included in the trademark
  • Translation: If the trademark is in a foreign language, it will be translated to English
  • Pseudo Mark: USPTO refers to any misspelling of a common word as a pseudo mark
  • Goods and Services: This is a list of all the goods and services associated with the trademark
  • Mark Drawing Code: Information about the type of drawing like design only, design plus words, or stylized characters
  • Design Search Code: 6-digit codes to categorize design elements
  • Serial Number: Unique to each trademark
  • Filing Date: Date the application was filed
  • Filing Basis: Which law the application was filed under, this can include use in commerce, intent to use, foreign application, foreign registration, or Madrid protocol
  • Owner: First and last name and address of the owner of the trademark
  • Attorney of Record: The attorney associated with the trademark registration
  • Type of Mark: A trademark can be listed as a trademark, service mark, collective mark, or certification mark
  • Register: A trademark is either principal or supplemental
  • Live/Dead: Indicates if the trademark is currently in use

Checking For Trademarked Names

There is no search engine or one place to search for conflicting business names. Often, a business will just start using a trademark whether it is registered or not. However, there are a few different ways you can search the internet for the same or similar business names.

National Trademark Searches

To run a national trademark search, use the USPTO search engine available on the USPTO website. You can enter your desired business name into the search field to find results of exact or similar names already registered.

State Trademark Searches

Local state and county searches can be done on your state’s division of corporation’s website and sometimes even a county clerk website. You can search corporations and fictitious names to see if any other businesses in your state have a similar name.

Analyzing Search Results

When you search the federal database for registered trademarks, it is common to turn up hundreds of results. It is important to narrow this search to effectively identify trademarks that are relevant to your potential trademark.

This requires that each search result be analyzed for similarities in sound, appearance, meaning, and trade channels used for the trademark. After analyzing all these qualities, it can be determined whether your proposed trademark will infringe on an already registered trademark.

It is common for an intellectual property lawyer to analyze the results of the search and make a determination and recommendation about the proposed trademark.

ContractsCounsel Trademark Search Image

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Who Needs a Trademark Search?

Any person who is applying for a registered trademark needs to conduct a trademark search. The most common reason that a trademark application is denied is due to the proposed trademark being too similar to an already registered trademark.

Furthermore, anyone who plans on using a trademark, even unregistered for business should conduct a trademark search. Trademarks are protected as intellectual property and using a trademark that copies or is too similar to a registered trademark can leave a person open to a lawsuit.

Conducting a thorough trademark search will help ensure an applicant is approved for trademark registration and protect a business from infringing on another business’s intellectual property.

Get Help with A Trademark Search

Do you have questions about conducting a trademark search and want to speak to an expert? Post a project today on ContractsCounsel and receive bids from intellectual property lawyers and trademark lawyers who specialize in trademark searches.


ContractsCounsel is not a law firm, and this post should not be considered and does not contain legal advice. To ensure the information and advice in this post are correct, sufficient, and appropriate for your situation, please consult a licensed attorney. Also, using or accessing ContractsCounsel's site does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and ContractsCounsel.


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