Do I need a trademark search?

Do I need a trademark search?

One of the fears every company has when building a brand is that as soon as they get some notoriety a copycat will come along and knock them off. How do protect your brand from knockoffs and copycats? With trademarks. The first step on the path to getting a trademark is a trademark search.

Trademark Search

Trademark searches help you determine whether there are similar goods or services already out there that may cause trademark infringement issues. Trademark protection exists so that consumers know the source of goods and services. A trademark has to uniquely identify your goods and services as coming from your business. If someone else is using a similar mark for a similar purpose then their use of the similar mark may restrict your ability to protect your brand.

Any entrepreneur who wants to register a trademark can use several free resources to conduct an initial trademark searching The trick is knowing what to look for and how to find it.

First you must think like a trademark examiner at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). An Examiner is going to look at your potential trademark as a member of the public would. Will it stand out from all the other trademarks as identifying goods or services coming from your business? 

With that as your frame of mind, every federally registered trademark is stored in a database and is searchable at the USPTO's website. Start with a trademark name search and see if anyone else is using your exact name, logo, or brand. If not, then that is a good first sign. If so, then you are going to have to look a bit closer.

Likely Confusion

The goal is to make it clear to your customers by just seeing your mark that your company produced that product or provided that service.

Just because someone else has registered a trademark for a similar trademark does not mean that you are out of luck. To prevent you from getting your trademark, other trademarks must cause confusion as to the source of goods. The Examiner will consider if the fields that use the same name are close enough to cause potential confusion.

The confusion does not have to come from federally registered trademarks. If businesses in your geographic region are using the same or similar trademarks, that may also be an issue. If both businesses have limited and different geographical reaches, then the Examiner will be less concerned about customers being confused as to the source of the services provided by each business. If both businesses operate in the same or nearby geographic regions, this may present an issue.

Starting with Your Search

Your biggest threat to getting the protection that you want is the way in which other businesses use your brand or brands like it. An accurate trademark search is essential to strong trademarks. 

Beyond having a great brand, you need to have an idea of how your business is going to use the trademark before you start searching. A business may use a trademark that is similar to that of another business as long as the use does not confuse the customers of either business. Knowing how you are going to use your mark is essential to interpreting the results of your mark.

Finally, if you search early, then you can find out the bad news sooner and adapt your brand. You can change the brand your business or shift your strategy to minimize or avoid future fights or costly re-branding efforts. 

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