The primary reason to conduct a trademark search is to avoid using a name for your business that cannot be registered with the federal or state government. Before using the name, it is important to check whether the name, or a very similar name, is currently in use. You can check the records of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for federally registered trademarks. State registered trademarks can be checked in the records of the state agency overseeing trademark registration. You should also research the market area where you do business to search for unregistered trademarks currently in use.
Federal Trademark Search
Locate the "Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)" on the USPTO website by clicking "search marks" on the Trademarks Home page. This is the system in which you will search for federally registered trademarks and pending trademark applications.
Click on the "Basic Word Mark Search" feature of TESS. On the next page, type the name you want to search in the "Search Term:" box. By leaving all other queries in their default settings, your search results will include all similar names -- not just identical names -- currently registered or in the application process.
Review the results of your search of the USPTO records regarding the goods or services associated with each name in your results by clicking the link next to it in the "Check Status" column and scrolling down the subsequent page. This is to determine whether any of these names are used on goods or services for which you intend to use your name.
State Trademark Searches
Locate the website for the state agency that oversees trademark registration in the states where you intend to do business. This is typically the secretary of state.
Search the state's registered trademark database to determine if there is a state registered trademark similar to your name that was not registered with the USPTO. Some state agencies, like the Indiana Secretary of State, provide the information online Other state agencies, like the Connecticut Secretary of State, require that trademark search requests be submitted by mail.
Conduct an on-site review of the state agency's registered trademark records, if the state agency does not offer searches either online or by mail. Depending on your circumstances, this may require the use of a commercial trademark search service.
Depending on the number of results in your search, your review of the results can be time consuming, but this review is necessary to make a reasonable determination about whether your name can be registered as a trademark. The USPTO rejects all trademark applications for names that may present a likelihood of confusion with a registered trademark for the same goods or services.
Even when a trademark is not registered at the state or local level, the owners of unregistered trademarks have rights in the name in the market area where it is used. You can search for local unregistered trademarks using business directories, such as Yellow Pages and White Pages directories, covering the geographical areas where you intend to do business.
Joe Stone is a freelance writer in California who has been writing professionally since 2005. His articles have been published on LIVESTRONG.COM, SFgate.com and Chron.com. 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.