Trademarks are words, names, symbols, or devices used to identify or distinguish the goods or services of one party from those of others. A logo is a symbol you can trademark. Choosing a logo for your business can help you establish your brand and make it memorable to customers. Before you use a logo, it is important to make sure that its use does not infringe upon another party's trademark.
Federal Trademark Database
You can go to the website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office and use the Trademark Electronic Search System to determine if there is an existing registered logo that is identical to, or confusingly similar to, the logo you would like to use. Because trademark law is designed to eliminate consumer confusion, closely examine designs registered by businesses similar to your own in the search results. First, search the Design Code Manual, which provides an alphabetical listing of codes, accompanied by graphic examples. Think carefully about all the elements of your logo and then look for the 6-digit design code for each one. For example, if your logo includes a dog howling at the moon, look at the design codes available for dogs and search for the ones that are most similar to your logo. You also will need to look for the design codes for moons. Once you're on the USPTO website, click on "TESS." Choose the free form or structured search option and enter the design code, omitting any periods, following it with"[dc]." For example, you might enter "123456[dc]." If you wish to enter more than one code, enter the word "and" between each code. The Design Code Manual provides instructions for more general searches as well.
Verify that the Information is Current
Although you can view most logos in TESS, the most recently filed ones may only be available for viewing in the most recent issues of the Trademark Official Gazette. The Official Gazette is also available on the USPTO's website. In addition to new trademarks, the Official Gazette lists cancelled trademarks and renewed registrations, so you might want to check the Gazette for the current status of a logo you find in TESS.
Search State Databases
Trademark registration is available at the state level as well, although it provides protection only in the state in which the logo is registered. You will likely be able to search for trademarks registered under state law at a state's secretary of state website. Many state websites allow you to search for logos by entering a description of it in a search bar.
Logos not registered with the federal or state government also might still be entitled to trademark protection under common law if a party can establish that it was the first in its geographical area to use it. As a result, it is prudent to make a reasonable effort to determine whether there is any business in your area using a logo similar to the one you would like to use. You should search the Internet, phone directories, trade journals and other similar resources to verify that no one else is using your prospective logo.
Your Trademark Application
Once you file your application for a trademark, you will receive a serial number for your application. You can check the status of your application using your serial number through the Trademark Status and Document Retrieval system or by calling the Trademark Assistance Center. You should check on the status of your pending application periodically. If the USPTO takes any action regarding your application, you might need to respond promptly. The total time for processing an application can vary from almost a year to several years, depending on the basis for filing and the legal issues that may arise in the examination of your application.
- The United States Patent and Trademark Office: Trademarks
- University of Washington Libraries: Patent and Trademark Information
- Oliver & Sabec: Trademark Basics
- The United States Patent and Trademark Office: Design Search Code Manual
- The United States Patent and Trademark Office: Trademark Official Gazette
- The United States Patent and Trademark Office: Conducting a Trademark Search
- Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute: 15 USC § 1127 - Construction and definitions; intent of chapter
- Traverse Legal: What are Common Law Trademark Rights?
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images