We encourage trademark applicants to conduct trademark clearance searches. This involves searching for trademarks that are confusingly similar to yours when used with goods and services that are the same as or related to yours. Doing this can help you avoid costly and time-consuming issues, such as:
- A refusal to register based on a likelihood of confusion with a registered trademark for goods or services related to yours
- A suspension of prosecution if there’s a potential likelihood of confusion with an earlier-filed application
- An opposition proceeding to prevent registration of your USPTO-approved trademark or a cancelation proceeding against your trademark registration
- A trademark infringement lawsuit
We don’t require you to conduct a clearance search before applying to register your trademark, but highly recommend it. The steps below provide a sample search strategy.
- Decide which version of your trademark you want to search.
A trademark can be any word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of these things, as you can see on the Trademark examples page. Before you start your search, determine whether you intend to register a brand name alone, a design alone, or a combination of wording and a design. This decision will affect how you conduct your search. Once you decide, write it down and get ready to make some additional notes.
- Identify the goods or services you use with your trademark.
Trademarks indicate the source of goods and services. The registrability of your trademark may depend on the goods or services you use or intend to use with your trademark. Before you start your search, make a list of these goods and services.
- Identify acceptable descriptions of your goods or services and their international class number.
Use the searchable Trademark ID Manual to compare your list of goods or services to the class numbers in the manual. Look for descriptions that accurately reflect what you provide. As you research, make sure to write down these descriptions. For example, the manual includes "flying saucers" for a type of toy in international class 28, or “shirts” for a type of clothing in international class 25.
- Research what goods or services are the same as yours or may be related to yours.
An important part of clearance searching involves determining whether your goods or services are related to someone else’s registered trademark. Consider what goods and services may be used, advertised, or sold with your goods or services. For example:
- Related goods include peanut butter, jellies, and jams.
- Related services include car sales, car repair services, and car parts.
- Related goods and services include computer retail stores, computer repair and consulting services, and computers and computer parts.
- Develop a Basic Search Strategy.
Before you file, consider conducting a basic search. At a minimum, you’ll want to search the database for your exact trademark. In addition, jot down all the distinctive elements in your trademark. If your mark includes a phrase, what are the most important keywords? You’ll want to look for other trademarks that contain your same non-descriptive wording. For more information, read our page on strong trademarks. If your mark contains a design, what are the various elements of that design? Use the Design Search Code Manual to determine the correct numerical codes for your mark’s graphic components. To learn more about the reasons we may refuse to register your mark, see our possible grounds of refusal page.
- Broaden Your Search Strategy.
If your trademark contains words, consider searching alternative spellings and homonyms of your trademark. For example, the word “bat” can mean an animal and a piece of sports equipment. Think about words that have the same or similar meanings to your trademark. Also think about words that have similar sounds or appearances or even phonetic equivalents. You can also have a conflict between a design and its literal equivalent. For example, the image of a bat and the word “bat.” Broadening your search may return more results, but, if necessary, you can narrow results using the international classes you previously identified.
- Conduct the Search.
Now you’re ready to do your search. Search the trademark database at your local Patent and Trademark Resource Center or at home if you have internet access. To learn more about how to use the trademark search system, see our help section.
- Search other databases and the internet.
It’s important to check a variety of places to determine if your trademark conflicts with other existing trademarks used with the same or related goods or services. To learn more about this step, see our comprehensive clearance search page.