How to Search Trademark Names for Restaurants

By Tom Speranza, J.D.

How to Search Trademark Names for Restaurants

By Tom Speranza, J.D.

When starting a restaurant, you'll need to settle on a name for your new establishment. The name for your restaurant functions as a trademark, which U.S. law defines as any symbol, word, slogan, design, color, or logo that identifies the source of a product or service and distinguishes it from those made or provided by others.

Man typing at laptop

Trademark Basics

A trademark is valuable because it gives the owner the legal right to prevent infringers from unfairly competing by using marks that are confusingly similar. For example, if you operate a restaurant called Tony's Pizza, you might be able to prevent someone else from using Pizzeria Tony as a restaurant name in the town next to yours—assuming you opened before they did. In the United States, trademark rights are created:

  • Automatically by use of the trademark in the marketplace in connection with a product or service (these are common law or unregistered trademarks)
  • By registration of the trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

Registering a trademark with the USPTO provides some benefits that a common law mark does not. A U.S. registration gives the owner nationwide rights to use the mark in connection with the goods and services included in the registration, while a common law trademark only creates rights in the specific geographic territory where the owner uses it.

Common law trademarks can appear with the ℠ or ™ symbols, but registered trademarks carry the ® symbol.

Ways of Searching for Trademarks

To prevent your new restaurant from infringing on the trademarks of other businesses, you must figure out whether anyone else operates under the restaurant name you'd like to use (or a name that's similar). The last thing you want is to receive a cease and desist letter from another business after you've invested money in signs, menus, a website, and advertising using an infringing name.

Search on the Internet

Not surprisingly, the easiest research source is the internet. Using a list of four or five possible restaurant names, conduct a series of Google searches of the exact name you want and any similar variations.

Few restaurants spend the money to obtain a federal registration with the USPTO, so you can assume that most of restaurants you find online use common law trademarks within a certain geographic area. If you want to open a Tony's Pizza in a Massachusetts town, for example, another Tony's Pizza located in Montana will probably not be an obstacle to using the name.

USPTO Database

The USPTO's trademark database is also online and can be another valuable source of information. The database allows you to search:

  • Trademarks currently registered with the USPTO
  • Trademarks in the process of registration
  • Old registered trademarks abandoned because the owner didn't renew them
  • Trademarks whose applications for registration were denied by the USPTO

You can do a simple word search in the database or do more focused searching using the standard categories of information required by a trademark application. For example, the service category for restaurant trademarks is Class 43 (Restaurants and Hotels). Use this search parameter to pull up only restaurant and hotel trademarks.

State Entity Databases

Each state maintains an online database of all corporations, limited liability companies, and partnerships formed in the state or registered to do business in the state. The database typically appears on the website that handles business entity formation (usually called the Office of Secretary of State). On these sites, you can search for the formal names of companies and any fictitious names (or "doing business as" names) businesses have registered with the state.

Related Businesses

Keep in mind that the infringement standard of "confusing similarity" includes the concept that potential consumers might mistakenly believe that two different businesses are somehow affiliated or connected. In the restaurant business, any other company involved in food or beverages might be relevant to your search. For example, a restaurant named Tony's Pizza could be considered infringing on the trademark rights of nearby businesses called Tony's Tavern or Anthony's Cheese Shop—or even a nationally distributed brand of pasta sauce called Tony's. For that reason, you should do some online searches for related businesses, such as bars, caterers, grocery stores, cheese shops, food manufacturers, coffee shops, and bakeries.

Trademark law can be complicated when you're launching a new business in a crowded marketplace. Consider consulting an experienced intellectual property lawyer who can help you run trademark searches, analyze the results, and weigh the pros and cons of filing an application for registration with the USPTO.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.