Copyright & Trademark Searches

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A copyright or trademark is a valuable property right protected by law from unauthorized use. Although government registration is not required to establish either a copyright or trademark, most owners register their copyrights and trademarks for maximum legal protection. Searching government registration records is important if you want to determine whether a certain copyright or trademark exists and the identity of the owner. However, no search method exists that can locate all unregistered copyrights and trademarks.

U.S. Copyright Office Searches

Federal copyright laws protect original works of authorship in intellectual works, such as literature, art and music, and the only government registration for copyrights is at the U.S. Copyright Office. An online database of all copyrights registered since 1978 is publicly available for searching on the Copyright Office’s website. To search copyright records prior to 1978 -- which go back to 1870 -- requires going to the Copyright Public Records Reading Room located in the Library of Congress.

USPTO Trademark Searches

Trademarks registered at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are given broad protection under federal law throughout the country. The USPTO maintains a publicly available database of trademark records on its website called the Trademark Electronic Search System, or TESS. The database includes records of all registered trademarks, abandoned trademarks and pending applications. On-site searches can be conducted of these records at libraries around the country designated as a Patent and Trademark Resource Center.

State Trademark Searches

Companies or individuals that only do business within a state can register trademarks with a state agency, typically the secretary of state's office or department of corporations. The USPTO website provides links to all the state agencies responsible for registering trademarks. Whether state trademark searches can be conducted online, by mail or in-person depends on each state's rules. For example, Georgia state trademark records are available online, but Alaska trademark records are not.

Other Considerations

Searching for active but unregistered copyrights and trademarks is primarily done with common information search techniques, such as using Internet search engines. Depending on the type of copyright or trademark sought, searches can include reviewing publications such as major newspapers, trade magazines or directory listings. Because federal law mandates that two copies of all works published in the U.S. be deposited with the Copyright Office for use in the Library of Congress, regardless of registration, the Library's records can be searched for unregistered copyrights. However, no search technique exists for finding all possible unregistered copyrights and trademarks in use.


About the Author

Joe Stone is a freelance writer in California who has been writing professionally since 2005. His articles have been published on LIVESTRONG.COM, and He also has experience in background investigations and spent almost two decades in legal practice. Stone received his law degree from Southwestern University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from California State University, Los Angeles.

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