Researching product and company names with the USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System
Researching product and company names with the USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System

Researching product and company names with the USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System

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Written by: Jim Wrubel Published on: @December 15, 2021 Last updated: @December 15, 2021

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Getting started

You've got a great idea for a startup. You've validated market demand and you have the ability to build the product and connections to sell it. Now you just need to find a name that isn't already being used by another company or product. Before you fall in love with a name you should make sure it doesn't conflict with an existing trademark. In this Recipe you'll use the U.S. Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to search for existing trademarks for the name you've selected.

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Although the USPTO TESS database is open to the public, before attempting to register a trademark you should consult an attorney to perform a trademark search. Otherwise you'll be potentially exposing yourself to legal liability and potentially loss of the ability to use the company or name you have settled on.

Researching trademarks with the TESS database

Start by navigating to the USPTO TESS database homepage. You'll see a button labeled Search our trademark database (TESS). Click that to access the search form.

The USPTO trademark search site (TESS) homepage
The USPTO trademark search site (TESS) homepage

The TESS database can be used to search for both word marks (trademarked words or phrases) and design marks (logos and other unique images companies have registered). For the purpose of this Recipe we're going to stick to searching for trademarks on words and phrases, so pick the first option, Basic Word Mark Search (New User).

The TESS search options menu
The TESS search options menu

The next screen is the search form itself. There are several options here, but since this search is just to get a broad sense of companies that might have registered trademarks similar to your desired startup name, leave the first radio button set to Plural and Singular. Set the second one to Live and Dead. While a dead trademark wouldn't normally present a conflict, if a trademark close to your startup name has lapsed it's helpful to know because the owner can still present a legal challenge even if they no longer own the trademark. Leave the other fields set to their default.

The TESS word mark search interface
The TESS word mark search interface

Enter your desired startup name in the Search Term field and press Enter or click Submit Query. As of the time of writing this Recipe, a search for Startup Recipes returns no results.

TESS result screen for Alphalab search, showing a 'no results' response for a trademark search
TESS result screen for Alphalab search, showing a 'no results' response for a trademark search

If you get this result for your startup name, it's an encouraging sign that you've identified a name that won't clash with an existing trademark. You'll still want an attorney to perform their own search before filing for the trademark, but you should feel comfortable starting to use the name or even registering the domain name.

If you search for a name that has related existing trademarks they'll be returned as rows in a table listing hte serial and registration numbers of the trademark, the word or words registered, an option to check details, whether the trademark is live or dead, and the classes of mark to which it applies. Below is the result of a search for Alphalab:

TESS result screen for Alphalab search, showing a list of results for a search for 'Alphalab'.
TESS result screen for Alphalab search, showing a list of results for a search for 'Alphalab'.

Click the link in the fourth row labeled TSDR. This will display a detail screen so you can learn more about the trademark. The first screen shows the mark, status, and relevant dates such as filing date and publication date.

TESS result screen for Alphalab search, showing the trademark's registration status
TESS result screen for Alphalab search, showing the trademark's registration status

Click the section labeled Mark Information to see details on any limitations that may apply to this trademark. Sometimes companies will register a trademark only in a specific font or specific color or colors.

TESS result screen for Alphalab search, showing the trademark's visual characteristics
TESS result screen for Alphalab search, showing the trademark's visual characteristics

Next click the section marked Goods and Services. Because so many words are common in business settings, trademarks for words and phrases typically must be registered for a specific scope. In the Alphalab example below the trademark scope is related to business services for startup companies. A company that wanted to use the trademark for a different purpose, such as laboratory equipment, might be able to register the trademark even though this one exists because each would focus on different, non-overlapping purposes.

TESS result screen for Alphalab search, showing the trademark's purpose and scope
TESS result screen for Alphalab search, showing the trademark's purpose and scope

It may not be important to you in a research phase, but if you want to see the trademark owner you can click to open the section labeled Current Owner(s) Information.

TESS result screen for Alphalab search, showing the trademark's owner information
TESS result screen for Alphalab search, showing the trademark's owner information

When you've reviewed the information in this trademark you can use the back arrow to return to the list of results and click the link labeled TSDR for a different result, and repeat until you have a sense of the scope and status of all of the trademarks that might potentially conflict with the name you're considering for your startup.

Wrapping up

The research stage of a new startup venture is filled with possibilities and excitement. Finding a name for your concept can help propel your idea into reality, but if you fall in love with a name for your startup and it's already registered it will be a huge disappointment. It's worth doing some research on existing trademarks using the USPTO TESS database to see what other registered trademarks exist that might cause you problems down the road.

The contents of this Recipe are © Innovation Works, Inc. and are licensed under CC-BY-SA 4.0 . Contact us with questions or feedback, or to learn more about our structured program in Entrepreneurism based on Startup Recipes.