So you’ve just picked out a new name for your start-up company. Or you’ve decided on a brand name for a new product. The next step is to start using the name, right? Wrong. Before you start using the name, you need to run a trademark search.
Your ability to use the name will depend on whether there is a likelihood of confusion between your name and pre-existing trademarks. In the United States, likelihood of confusion exists when the names are so similar and the goods and/or services for which they are used are so related that consumers would mistakenly believe they come from the same source. Trademark searching eliminates names with obvious conflicts due to a likelihood of confusion.
When To Search?
A search should be done early to avoid:
- Adopting a weak trademark that cannot be protected;
- Building goodwill in a trademark that you may be forced to drop because another party has prior rights; and
- Exposure to damages and attorney’s fees resulting from claims by senior rights owners.
There are a number of free resources you can use to run trademark searches (Google, domain name registries, phone book, etc.), but the best place to look is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website. The USPTO maintains a searchable database for federally registered trademarks and pending applications.
Free Search Limitations
There are significant limitations to searching on the USPTO database. First of all, the database does not contain “common law” (or unregistered) trademarks. Common law trademarks can limit your ability to both use and register your trademark.
Secondly, a search on the USPTO database is also unlikely to disclose numerous variations that could impact the likelihood of confusion analysis. Here are some common variations:
- Abbreviations (MOUNTAIN or MT.)
- Spelling variations (KWIK, QUIK, KWIX)
- Phonetic equivalents (SEA, SEE, C)
- Unusual punctuation (A.B.C. or ABC)
- Synonyms (SEA or OCEAN)
- Translations (BONJOUR and HELLO)
- Visual equivalents
A Better Way To Search
Squadhelp has partnered with a leading trademark law firm to provide you with a search that can overcome the limitations of a free search. Our search uses an algorithm that uncovers all similar marks, not just those that are identical. Our search includes:
- Report in PDF format with results ordered based on similarity;
- Safety score from 1 to 5 showing the risk of using your name;
- Relevant industry data including apps, music, and media;
- Word meaning in 200 languages; and
- Relevant internet domains.
Randy Michels– Squadhelp’s Lead Attorney– is a trademark lawyer with 16 years of experience advising clients on the selection and registration of trademarks. Randy has been named to Managing Intellectual Property magazine’s list of IP Stars for five years in a row.