Before you spend time and money in the trademark registration process, it's absolutely necessary to perform a USPTO trademark search. Much like a patent search, you can do a preliminary trademark search on your own, but we highly recommend that you take advantage of the services of an experienced attorney to perform a comprehensive, professional trademark search to ensure both that your registration won't be denied and that you won't be committing trademark infringement.
There's no point in spending the time and money to apply for registration when your mark has already been taken. It's not unlikely that your first few trademark choices will already have been registered. You can also save some money when it comes to the trademark search if you can eliminate some of those choices by searching yourself. But searching is pretty complicated and requires a considerable degree of skill and knowledge to do well. So you very well might miss things a professional would find. It's always better to start doing a search yourself, and then have an attorney perform a search for any potential trademarks you didn't already eliminate with your own preliminary search.
Here's how to go about performing your own trademark search.
TESS, the Trademark Electronic Search System of the USPTO, provides you with online access to the database of registered trademarks. You can access the TESS from the United States Patent and Trademark Office homepage. Each search session on the TESS is time-limited and only so many people can access the system at any one time (which is why you cannot link directly to the TESS system: the URL will return a 'session timed out' error). If you wait too long between actions, the system will time out and you'll have to log back into the system. For this reason, it is also important that you log out when done searching so that others may access the system.
This should be the only form you need to use. You can safely ignore the other options for the purpose of performing a trademark search.
A good start is to simply type in your term into the "Search Term" box and click "Submit Query". You'll probably find that the search returns more terms than you'll realistically be able to search, but there is an off-chance that you'll see an exact match early and then you'll be done with the search right off the bat.
Note: don't forget to search with quotation marks. If you're looking to trademark the term Fast Blue, you'll get thousands of results if you search Fast Blue, but far fewer if you search "Fast Blue". When quotations are used, the search engine will look for precise phrase matches, rather than returning any results which contain the words fast and blue.
Remember that you aren't just looking for terms that are exact matches to the trademark you hope to use. The critical issue is "likelihood of confusion", not whether the terms are identical. You need to be looking for terms which could reasonably be confused with yours. (See our Trademark FAQ for more information on the likelihood of confusion requirement).
So, be sure to run searches on every variation of your term that could be trademarked. To continue with the same example, you'd want to search "Fast Bue", "Fast-Blue", "Fastblue", "Fast Blu", "Fast Blues", etc.
Note on Plurals: the search form has an option to check for obvious grammatical plurals automatically (change the "plurals" box to yes). If the trademark is not so obvious, make sure to search for it manually.
If you've still not found any direct matches or sufficiently similar terms, it's time to broaden your search.
Start by looking for partial matches. If your term contains multiple words, search for those terms separately or in different combinations. You can take advantage of the truncation search functions to do more complex searches.
Prefix and postfix truncation searches are very useful. - FAST* gets you any mark starting with "fast-", and *BLUE gets you any mark ending with "-blue". You can then connect them with "and" you not only get "FASTBLUE" and "FAST BLUE", you also get "FASTBLUE" or "FAST-AND-BLUE". If "BLUE-" is too big a prefix you can do "BLU-" instead. FASTBLU would still be a problem!
You can also perform a full permutation search, though this is often too broad. If you search for *FAST*, for example, you will get results for every term with 'blue' in it somewhere. So you would get 'breakfast', 'quick-and-fast', 'fast-food', etc.
You can use the characters $, $n or ? as wildcards to represent one or more optional characters (or "*" in the [bi] field only). The definitions are:
Misspellings and variations: always remember that intentional misspellings are very popular in trademarks! 'Kwik' instead of quick, '2' instead of to... The list goes on and on. Try to think of any misspellings or variations. Common things to look for include:
The TESS system takes advantage of the same boolean operators you find in most search engines (AND, OR, NOT). In addition, you can use the more complex operators SAME, NEAR, and ADJ.
SAME: Limits searches to results in which the combined terms appear in the same paragraph. This helps exclude results that are purely coincidental.
Example: *FAST* SAME *BLUE*
ADJ and NEAR are even stronger, and will limit the search to results in which the combined terms appear next to each other. You can also use numbers (ADJ3, NEAR4) to return results in which the terms appear within a certain number of words. The only difference between ADJ and NEAR is that ADJ will only search for words that appear in that order, whereas near will look for any case where those two words are near each other.
Example: *FAST* NEAR2 *BLUE* will return any results in which a world containing FAST appears within 2 words of any word containing BLUE.
If your search is returning an unusable number of results that you can't reasonably sort through, it can sometimes be useful to narrow your search field. Be careful though that you don't end up missing something important!
First, try narrowing the search so that you aren't getting results for unhelpful things like product descriptions, addresses, or names of applicants. To do this, all you have to do is input a field code in brackets after a search term. For example, [ON] is the field code for owner's name, and so the search "TESLA [ON]" will return results for anything owned by a Tesla.
We've already mentioned one of the most useful field codes: [BI]. The [BI] field code returns results for terms found in the mark itself. It covers the word mark, translation and "pseudo mark" fields. (Pseudo marks are translations into regular spelling of deliberate misspellings, spelled-out abbreviations, and so on. For example, "Kwik-2-U" would have a pseudo mark of "quick to you").
You may also find it useful to narrow your search to include only goods and services that are competitive with your own. There is nothing wrong, necessarily, with this strategy, however, you must be careful in doing it as you do not want to miss trademarks registered under an unexpected description. Also, well-established trademarks have a broader scope than your average mark, and so would prevent you from using them even for goods/services in a completely different area (for example, Disney is such a well-known trademark that you could not use it as a trademark even for something as different from films and toys as salsa).
The [GS] field code is useful for narrowing down your search to specific types of goods and services. Use the USPTO Acceptable Descriptions Manual to identify potential classes. Again, be careful in using the [GS] code, in that you can never be sure what descriptions were used in the registration of a trademark. Is it a watch, clock, timekeeping device, or a chronometer? You can't know in advance.
Some other potentially useful field codes:
The TESS system will return a summary of all the records turned up by your search. They will be displayed on a table with the following six columns:
Clicking on any of the above entries (except TARR) will bring you to a separate page with more information on the individual record. There you will find:
Other options that you may wish to click on include:
TARR shows a list of status actions.
ASSIG displays any assignments on record.
TTAB Status shows any records of the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board related to the record.
TDR show images of any of the documents associated with the record.