Although not required prior to filing an application, you are encouraged to search the USPTO's trademark database to see if any mark has already been registered or applied for that is similar to your mark and used on related products or for related services. If your search yields a mark that you think might conflict with your mark, you should then check status to see if the application or registration is still "live," since any "dead" mark cannot be used to block a new application.
A complete search is one that will uncover all similar marks, not just those that are identical. In this regard, searching for trademark availability is not the same as searching to register a domain name. A domain name search may focus on exact or "dead on" hits, with no consideration given to similar names or use with related products and services. Basically, a domain address is either available or it is not. The trademark process, on the other hand, is more complex. As part of the overall examination process, the USPTO will search its database to determine whether registration must be refused because a similar mark is already registered for related products or services (i.e., even identical marks may co-exist if used on goods or services not considered to be related in any way). Please note that the USPTO does not offer advisory opinions on the availability of a mark prior to filing of an actual application.
Depending on what trademark material you are looking for, there are a number of different areas to perform a Search:
Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)
Use TESS [< This is a direct link to the search system] to conduct a free online search of the USPTO database. TESS provides access to text and images of registered marks, and marks in pending and abandoned applications. The USPTO cannot provide guidance as to how you should search, beyond the HELP provided within the TESS site.
Design Search Code
If your mark includes a design element, you must search using a design code. The USPTO assigns all marks containing design figurative elements a 6-digit numerical code(s) for searching purposes. A design code search is also conducted using TESS .
For assistance in searching with a design code, access the Design Search Code Manual . This manual indexes the categories, divisions, and sections that make up these codes. For example, a five-pointed star would be coded in category 01 (celestial bodies, natural phenomena and geographical maps), division 01 (stars, comets) and section 03 (stars with five points), resulting in a complete design code of 01.01.03.
US Registration Certificates
Registration Certificates show or determine the ownership of a mark, the date first used in commerce, the registration and serial numbers, and the purposes the mark may be used in. The registration certificate may also be used to determine terms not claimed by an owner.
Public Search Facility
You may conduct a free online search of the USPTO database at the Public Search Facility (Madison East, 1st Floor; 600 Dulany Street, Alexandria, Virginia) between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. USPTO personnel may not conduct trademark searches for the public. Private trademark search firms will conduct searches for a fee. The USPTO cannot aid in the selection of a search firm or an attorney. Search firms are often listed in the yellow page section of telephone directories under the heading "Trademark Search Services" or "Patent and Trademark Search Services."
Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC)
The Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) is available in all PTRCs. Also, these libraries have CD-ROMS containing the database of registered and pending marks; however, the CD-ROMS do not contain images of the design marks.
Assignments on the Web (AOTW)
Use AOTW [< This is a direct link to the search system] to search the database of all recorded Trademark Assignment information from 1955 to the present (Trademark Assignments recorded prior to 1955 are maintained at the National Archives and Records Administration). Assignment records can also be searched in the Public Search Facility.