Learning how to do a trademark search involves knowing how to conduct research to make sure others don't already own a mark you intend to use for your own products or services. Before you use a mark in commerce or attempt to register the mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), you should do a trademark search.

While you can do a preliminary trademark search on your own, a lawyer can help you with the process.

If you're trying to create or register a trademark for your products or services, you probably have some ideas. However, chances are, your 2first few choices will already be used by other manufacturers or sellers. Therefore, you should invest the effort now to make sure you're not accidentally infringing on the trademark rights of another person or business.

To do a trademark search, you should use the United States Patent and Trademark Office's (USPTO) trademark search system. You can use this tool to look through a database of all marks registered with the USPTO. While you will be able to see all marks that are federally registered, you won't be able to see the marks that are not registered but protected due to established use in commerce.

Go to the home page of the USPTO website (uspto.gov) and click on the TESS (Trademark Electronic Search System) Search Trademarks link. You should find the link under the tools section.

  • Keep in mind that the TESS permits a limited number of people to conduct trademark searches at one time. Also, you will have a certain time period to respond to any prompts that appear on your screen. The TESS will log you out of the system if you wait too long to respond to a prompt. 

Once you're done with your trademark search session, log out to allow other people to use the system.

Conducting a Trademark Search: Tips for Using the TESS

If you want the most flexibility when using the TESS, use the Word and/or Design Mark Search (Free Form) option.

When you do a trademark search, start with the most obvious query first. Enter your mark and send your query. You may come across a trademark identical to your own immediately. However, you will receive far too many results to reasonably look through. If the latter occurs, make changes to your query to narrow down the number of search results.

  • Use Quotation Marks: Use quotation marks to enclose any phrases in your query. If you don't use quotation marks, the system will interpret your query as (first term) OR (second term). All trademarks that contain either the first term or the second term will appear in the results for the query. When you get many search results for a certain query, you should try using quotation marks to enclose the entire term. You will likely narrow down the number of results you get by using quotation marks.
  • Keep the Likelihood of Confusion in Mind: You should keep the likelihood of confusion in mind when you do trademark searches. For trademark infringement, the standard the courts abide by is likelihood of confusion. If a mark is so similar to another trademark that it is likely to confuse consumers about the origin of the product or service, your use of the mark would likely be a form of trademark infringement. Therefore, you shouldn't only look for marks that are identical to the mark you choose. You also need to look for trademarks that are similar to the mark you selected.
  • Search Domain Names for Web-Based Businesses: To verify domain names used for web-based businesses, you can check domain name registrars through sources such as ICANN.org. This organization oversees web domain registrations.

Search for any variations of your chosen mark, especially if your mark has multiple parts. Remove or add spaces between the different parts of the mark. You can also add or remove hyphens between different parts of the mark. For example, you can look for TridentGum, Trident Gum, and Trident-Gum. You should also use truncation, shortened or letters removed, characters in your query.

Don't forget to also look for plural forms of your mark. On the free form search page of TESS, apply the yes option in the plurals box so that you can look for plural forms of your chosen mark. You should manually search for nonobvious plural forms of your mark. Don't make the mistake of using truncation characters while the plurals option is marked yes.

You can also use some additional search features on the site:

  • Browse Dictionary: You can browse all fields in TESS unless you limit search results to a particular field. Results display in an alphabet-style, dictionary listing. In the search area, provide a keyword to return an alphabetical list of terms with the keyword included and the related documents and for each term.
  • Search OG (Official Gazette) Publication or Registration Date: Search the Official Gazette, the USPTO's official trademark publication source, for trademarks published or registered on a certain date. You can search by "publish for opposition" date or registration date and include the date with a search term with a field you select from a drop-down menu.

Check Your State's Trademark Database

In addition to checking the USPTO's official website for federally registered trademarks, you should also check the trademark database of your state. Usually, the trademark database for a state is associated with the secretary of state's office.

Some states have a single department dedicated to trademark registration. Many websites can allow you to conduct trademark searches for any trademarks registered in any one of the 50 states. Using such a service is helpful if you're planning on doing business and commerce in more than one state.

A common law search takes you beyond government records for trademark searches. With a common law search, you can check telephone listings, industrial records, state trademark directories, internet sources, and more. 

A common law search can help you find out whether others are using a trademark but have not filed for federal trademark protection. Keep in mind that even though someone chooses not to have a federal trademark registration, that person can still prove rights to use the trademark. Common law rights follow from actual use. In general, the first person to use a mark in commerce or file an application of intent to use a mark with the USPTO holds the right to use and register the trademark.

Limitations of Trademark Searches

When you do trademark research, keep in mind that a trademark search is never comprehensive or perfect. Trademark searches rely on databases, which may not always be comprehensive.

A person can have rights to a trademark simply by completing a trademark application for intent to use. Also, databases are not updated every time rights to a new trademark get established. Finally, registration is not needed to establish a trademark through common law rights.

The limitations of trademark searches offer reasons why you should get a lawyer's help to conduct trademark research. Lawyers have more tools and techniques for trademark research to rely on than databases alone. 

Cost is one of the main disadvantages of performing a trademark search. Doing a preliminary trademark search could be a time-consuming task, especially if you haven't conducted trademark searches in the past. After conducting a preliminary search, you should spend money on an online professional service or a trademark lawyer to conduct more thorough research for you. 

In general, hiring a trademark lawyer to do a trademark search is more costly than paying for a professional service. However, a trademark lawyer will be able to do the job for you more reliably.

Even if cost deters you from doing a trademark search, you should keep in mind that a thorough search could prevent problems with unintentional infringement in the future.

To federally register a trademark, you could spend between $275 and $400 per class of products and services. If the USPTO rejects your application, the agency will not refund you any fees.

Checking Your Trademarks After Its Registration

How can you see how your mark will be listed once you successfully register it? In the search page at uspto.gov, enter your trademark registration number and include RN after the number. RN is the code used for registered trademark searches. All information about your registered trademark should display on your search results.  

If you need learning how to do a trademark search, you can post your question or concern 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 such as Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.