A quality trademark can be the lifeline of your business, an instantly recognizable symbol that makes your company and its products stand out in a crowded field of competitors.
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But developing a strong trademark is no simple matter, so you'd better make sure your trademark is unique before you investment time and energy into making it the public icon of your business.
The surest way to determine the distinctiveness of a potential trademark is to conduct a trademark search. If you plan to register your trademark with the United States Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO), a trademark search is a required part of the process so it you might as well get started early in the process.
Even if you never plan on registering your trademark, it's still a good idea to conduct a trademark search since similarities with preexisting trademarks can lead to consumer confusion and open the door for costly litigation down the road.
Trademark searches can be broken down into two categories: Trademark Screening Searches and Comprehensive Clearing Searches.
Although these searches vary in thoroughness, they both have the same goal - to uncover possible conflicts and clear the way for a trademark that is distinctive and unique to your business.
Trademark Screening Searches
Trademark screening searches are the first step of the search process and are relatively cursory in nature. Their objective is to locate existing trademarks that exactly match your proposed trademark within the most easily searchable field - the database of trademarks that have already been registered with the USPTO.
While a screening search will uncover registered "direct hits", it won't uncover unregistered trademarks or trademarks that are similar, but not identical, to your proposed trademark. On the upside, screening searches can usually be done without the help of an outside professional. For more information visit the USPTO website at www.uspto.gov.
Comprehensive Clearing Searches
As their name suggests, comprehensive clearing searches are more thorough than a simple screening search. In this type of search, a trained research analyst conducts a broad search of similarities with current and past registered trademarks, as well as similarities with unregistered trademarks through multiple databases such as yellow pages, business databases, and internet domains.
The complexity of the search can vary based on need, but the important thing to keep in mind is that trademark rights are predominantly based on use. If someone else is using or has used a trademark similar to yours, chances are they will have a stronger claim to it than you - even if you manage to register your trademark with the USPTO. With that in mind, it's imperative that your search is wide enough to include common law trademarks as well as trademarks that may be registered in any state. You should also consider searching for trademarks that sound similar to yours, even if they are spelled completely differently (e.g. Claude Hopper's and Klodhoppers).