A trademark and patent search lets you check the availability of a desired trademark or service mark or whether or not someone has already patented a creation that's the same or similar to your own. There are databases you'll be able to use, and it will take time to conduct a thorough search.

Trademarks and Service Marks

A trademark can be any of the following: 

  • Name 
  • Word 
  • Symbol 
  • Device 
  • Combination of any of the above

Trademarks are used to identify and distinguish an entity's products or goods from goods sold by other entities. The trademark also indicates the goods' source, no matter if the source is known or not.

A service mark can take any of the same forms as a trademark, but instead of identifying goods, these marks identify and distinguish services from one source. It doesn't matter if the source is known or not.

Service marks may also include the following: 

  • Character names 
  • Titles 
  • Other distinctive features

The word “mark” may be used to refer to either trademarks or service marks.

You can get more information on registering a federal mark from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). You can register a mark under federal law if it's used in interstate commerce.

Searching the Trademark Database

You don't have to conduct a trademark search before you file an application for one, but it's recommended. You can search the trademark database at the USPTO to see if a similar mark has already been applied for or is currently registered and being used on products or services related to your industry.

If you find a mark that you think could conflict with yours, check the status of the registration or application. If it's “live,” you might not be able to use it, but if the status is “dead,” that designation can't be used to block new applications.

You can search for free at the USPTO database, using the search system for trademarks, also known as TESS. You'll have access to images and text of marks that are registered, as well as marks that are pending or abandoned. If your mark has a design element, you'll have to search using a design code. All marks that contain design elements have a six-digit code.

Registration certificates have the following information: 

  • A mark's ownership 
  • The date a mark is first used in commerce  
  • Serial and registration numbers 
  • Potential purposes for a mark 
  • Other unclaimed terms

Patent Search Resources

If you invent something with the intention to use or sell it, you should check to see if someone else has created an item very similar or the same as your own. You also need to see if they've patented their creation. You have several options for a patent search.

The USPTO covers U.S. patents dating from 1790 to the present. You can search using the full text and image database for patents issued since 1976 or search the full archive for PDF images for patents starting in 1790.

The Global Dossier offers business services that are aimed at modernizing the patent system. It seeks to provide benefits for all interested parties around the globe by offering a single search portal. Using this service, with its security measures in place, users have access to file histories from participating IP Offices.

The Global Dossier lets users see the patent family for a specific application, which contains related applications, along with additional data and information. Users can download needed documents.

If you wish to conduct an in-person search, you can visit the USPTO search facility in Alexandria, Virginia. You'll be able to get access to trademark and patent information in the following formats: 

  • Microfilm 
  • Print 
  • Online

You can always begin with a simple, free search, but it's important to conduct a thorough search before trying to register a trademark or patent. If you fail to do a proper search, you run the risk of infringing on someone else's mark or patent, which can have costly consequences. There are services available that will do the search for you, which can be time-saving. Although you'll have to pay for the service, you might find it worthwhile.

If you need help with trademarks and patents, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.