Trademarks need not be registered to receive legal protection. The process of trademarking names involves determining the current use of the name, service or goods associated with the use, and geographic location, including international locations, of the person or business using the name you wish to trademark. You can trademark a name when your product or service differs from its current use -- and the geographic region you plan to cover is different from the territory used by the current name holder. Researching trademarked names, and names in current use, requires the exploration of a number of outlets and publications, including government and private print and online resources and databases.
Log onto the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) linked to the United States Patent and Trademarks Office website to search the databases for use of the name under trademark protection. Click on the "Search Marks" link on the "Search Trademark Database" page. Click the icon labeled "Basic Word Search (New User)" and then enter the name in the blank labeled "Search Term." Do not change the default settings listed below the blank. Click on "Submit Query" and wait for the results. Note the "Word Mark," "Goods and Services," "Type of Mark," address of owner and the "Live/Dead Indicator" for the trademarks returned from TESS. This information provides the basic registration for the name.
Search the United States Patent and Trademark Office to review the editions of the "Official Gazette for Trademarks" for newly granted trademarked names. The main page of the USPTO website offers a direct link to the office's weekly online publication. Click on the link labeled "Manuals, Guides, Official Gazette," and then the link on the page labeled "Official Gazette (OG)." Open the weekly editions of the publication using the links listed under "Issue" to load copies of the PDF files.
Review the website operated by the secretary of state in the states where you plan to do business or offer services to search for the target name by linking to the individual states via the USPTO website. Click on the "Trademark Process" link on the USPTO main page and then select the link labeled "Trademark Basics." Scroll to the bottom of the page to the heading "Other Government Resources for Trademark Owners." Click on the link "State Trademark Links" under that heading for access to the secretary of state offices providing separate trademark searches for individual states. Use the name to locate states granting trademarks matching your search name.
Search for people or businesses online by inserting the name in your browser. If the name includes more than one word, place quotation marks around the multiple words to limit the search to your targeted name.
Perform an online search of phone directories, including business and corporate directories, to track the use of the name in the geographic regions where you plan to offer services or products. The telephone area code helps identify the geographic location of the company or companies currently using the name. Online legal services and attorneys specializing in trademark law typically subscribe to special services to speed the search of multiple phone directories and offer search assistance for a fee.
Search national, regional and local chambers of commerce websites and Better Business Bureau websites to find the trademarked name or companies and individuals using the name as part of a business or service. Most chambers and bureaus have a search feature allowing you to indicate a geographic region to begin your name search.
Tips & Warnings
The legal right to use a public name appears simple, but the process requires concentrated research when another person or business has the rights to a similar name, or a person or company uses the name you wish to trademark without officially registering the trademark. An attorney or online legal service provider can offer assistance with complex trademark searches.
Once you have completed your trademark search and confirmed your target name is available, an online legal service provider or attorney familiar with trademark law can help you navigate the trademark process and register the trademark on your behalf.
References & Resources
- United States Patent and Trademark Office: Trademarks Home
- United States Patent and Trademark Office: Official Gazette for Trademarks
- Maryland Office of the Secretary of State: Index of Trademark Offices
- United States Patent and Trademark Office: State Trademark Information Links
- United States Patent and Trademark Office: Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Chamber Directory Search Page
- Better Business Bureau: Find a BBB
- Better Business Bureau: Local Better Business Bureau Location Guide
- Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images