How to Find Copyrighted or Trademark Phrases

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An individual can find a copyrighted phrase by using the search tool available on the website of the U.S. Copyright Office. She can find a trademarked phrase by using the search tool available on the website for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Some phrases are protected on a state level. The individual must search the online database of trademarks and service marks of each state in which she wants to do business. A state’s online database of trademarks and service marks is on the website of its secretary of state.

Tips for Using Search Engines

With the U.S. Copyright Office, use the Public Catalog Search feature to search for works copyrighted after 1978. Use the keyword search field for phrases in copyright records. Place double quotation marks around the phrase to search for the exact phrase.

With the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office search engine, use the Trademark Electronic Search System and begin with the Basic Word Mark Search (new user). Enter the phrase into the search term field. Leave the default search options alone for a basic search.

Methods for searching state trademark databases vary depending on the search engine. For California’s trademark search, search for the whole phrase or part of the phrase using the category, Description of Mark. For Washington’s trademark search, search for the whole phrase or part of the phrase using the category, Trademark Text and the choices, Contains or Exact Match.

Definition of a Copyright

A copyright is an exclusive legal right given to the person who came up with the idea to publish material in a fixed medium, like a video or a writing. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. If an individual wants to bring a lawsuit claiming infringement of a U.S. work, he should register the copyright with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A copyright expires after a set period.

Read More: How to Copyright a Restaurant Name

Definition of a Trademark

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design that distinguishes the source of goods from a party from those of other parties. A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol or design that distinguishes a service. The term trademark can refer to trademarks and service marks.

Trademarks develop from actual use. Unlike a copyright, a trademark does not expire after a set period. An individual can get the broadest protection for a phrase by registering it with both the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the offices of the secretary of state of the states in which he wants protection.

A trademark does not need to be registered. An individual can establish common law rights to a mark based solely on using the mark in commerce.

What Is a State Trademark?

A state trademark protects a phrase for a good or service sold in that state. If a shoe repair company registered the phrase Heavenly Sole Repair with California’s Secretary of State, the phrase would only be protected for marketing purposes in California.

Be Sure to Look Multiple Times

State and federal offices frequently update their copyright and trademark searches. Search results may not reflect filings that an office has not yet processed to completion. An individual may be able to get a complete copy of a record of a trademark by sending a written request to the agency's trademark unit.

International Copyright and Trademark Searches

A phrase may be protected in other countries through its national or local copyright and trademark offices. There is no such thing as an international copyright or trademark that protects a phrase throughout the world.

References

About the Author

Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.