A US PTO trademark search is the first step in obtaining a registered trademark for your business. Trademarks are one of the best ways to establish a brand identity for your business. People can associate your products or services with a trademark that will remind them of everything you can offer. Trademarks must be unique, however, which means you need to make sure no one has the trademark you want.

What Is a USPTO Trademark Search?

Before you settle on a trademark, you need to make sure it's available. As smart and innovative as you are, your first few choices for a trademark are probably already taken. Fortunately, the United States Patent and Trademark Office keep public records of all registered trademarks in their system. From their site, you can search all companies and persons using a trademark similar to yours who operate in the marketplace. Even pending trademarks will be included in your search, not just trademarks that have been approved and officially registered. 

The Trademark Electronic Search System, or TESS, isn't infallible, however. If you want to be doubly sure that your trademark is safe to use, you should visit the closest Public Search Library or hire a firm to conduct the search for you. Trademark lawyers are always handy if you want to be absolutely sure your trademark won't get you into trouble.

How to Do a Trademark Search

The first resource for your trademark search is TESS, the US Patent and Trademark Office's Trademark Electronic Search System. This database contains information for all registered and pending trademarks. Access their website and take a few steps to complete your search:

  1. Click on “TESS Search Trademarks.”
  2. Select “Word and/or Design Mark Search (Free Form).” This will give you the most freedom in your search. 
  3. Enter your trademark in the search box and see if anything comes up.
  4. Make sure you put phrases in quotes.
  5. Remember your standard when searching. Potential issues arise when other trademarks could be confused with your own.
  6. Narrow down the search by industry and product descriptions.
  7. Don't forget to check for pseudo marks, which are deliberate misspellings.

If you want to conduct a search for a logo, the steps are a bit different:

  1. Create a design search code.
  2. Consult the Design Code Manual as a guide for logo classification.
  3. Once you have the design code, enter it in the advanced search option followed by “[dc].”
  4. A full entry would look like this: “123456[dc]” (but with your unique six-digit design code).

Registering a Trademark With the USPTO

It's always a good idea to get a registered trademark with the USPTO, as it protects your brand and image on the federal level. The main requirement for a trademark is that it must be unique, but it must also be used in interstate commerce. That means the trademark must represent a product or a service that operates in more than one state. Otherwise, you can only register your trademark at the state level. This doesn't necessarily mean that you must have physical locations in multiple states. If you operate a hotel, you can still qualify for a federal trademark since you serve guests from multiple states.

A good trademark must be specific enough to identify your brand but not too descriptive, as you need concise distinction. If you plan to use the trademark for interstate business in the future even if you aren't doing so now, you can still apply. The only difference is that you'll need to file an Intent to Use (ITU) application as well, which incurs additional fees. An ITU application gives you 18 months to begin conducting interstate business. You can have that period extended to a full 2 years if need be. State registration may be ideal if you're only going to be operating in one state for a long while, but federal registration supersedes state registration, so you only need to register once.

Marks Not Eligible for Trademark Protection

Not all potential trademarks are created equal. Some marks are ineligible by default, such as the following.

  • Marks containing the US flag
  • Marks that include the likeness or signature of a living person without consent
  • Marks that depict government insignias
  • Marks that dishonestly suggest a connection to people, institutions, national symbols, or beliefs
  • Marks that are too similar to already registered trademarks
  • Marks that depict offensive material (refusal is rarely done on these grounds)

If you need help with your USPTO trademark search, 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, Stripe, and Twilio.