1. Get a Virtual Copy of Your Trademark
Most of the time, you'll probably be dealing with virtual copies anyway, but if you only have a hard copy of your trademark design, scan it to a digital file. Then go to the USPTO trademark database, also known as the Trademark Electronic Search System or TESS. This database contains all the registered trademarks in the United States.
2. Start Narrow and Then Broaden Your Search
For the best search results, start with a narrow search and gradually broaden your scope. Look at all the results to determine whether your trademark is sufficiently different from others on the market. Next, try similar terms and variations. Don't assume that the one way you describe your trademark is the only way it could be described. The database does have some organic search functions, so it will match you up with similar items. However, switching over to common synonyms and variations can help you see what else is out there.
Remember that you will have to search based on both the text and the design. The words “design” and “mark” on the USPTO mean any visual element that's part of your trademark. Often a trademark combines both. Coca-Cola, for instance, trademarked both the phrase Coca-Cola and the iconic lettering that the phrase appears in.
3. Track Your Results
Keep track of the terms you search for and which sections of the TESS you use for your trademark search. Depending on how popular your trademark is, you might run into a lot of competition. It's easy to skip key sections of your research or even duplicate your own research. Since even a basic trademark search can be time consuming, keep a spreadsheet or notebook on hand to track your results and make any notes.
4. Scrutinize Similar Trademarks
It is almost inevitable that you will run into a few trademarks that are similar to your own. Look at them closely. Ask yourself whether the trademarks are different enough that consumers unfamiliar with either brand could distinguish between the two. Also check to see whether the similar trademarks are in the same industry. The USPTO is more likely to grant a trademark registration for similar trademarks if they are in separate industries and unlikely to compete with one another, but even then, the trademarks can't look too much alike. Remember that it's easier to adapt your current trademark and repeat the search than it is to have your application denied—wasting the registration fee and the time spent on the paperwork. Sometimes it’s not necessary to change very many features about a trademark to make it acceptable to be registered—it could be as simple as changing a color, for example.
For help with your trademark search, talk to an intellectual property lawyer.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.