Trademark Search Step-By-Step Guide

Trademark search is the process of uncovering trademarks in use (or planned use) to inform your own brand strategy.

Topics covered in this section:

Check out other sections of the Ultimate Trademark Guide

What is Trademark Research?

Trademark research is never completely accurate because owners might have common law rights because it’s practically impossible to uncover all uses. Since research is a snapshot in time, a new use might arise the moment after you complete your search.

So when conducting research it’s important to remember that no search can be perfect or fully accurate.

How to Research a Trademark?

Do trademark research with common law trademark research and USPTO trademark research.

What is Common Law Trademark Search?

Common law research is the process of uncovering unregistered uses of a mark. There is no one place to do this research. Perform Common law research on ordinary search engines, app stores, or social media.

WIPO Trademark Research

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations promoting and protecting intellectual property internationally. In the realm of international trademark, the WIPO plays a large part in searching for, registering, maintaining, and enforcing trademark across international borders. This article dives into WIPO trademark search and provides a step-by-step guide to the available tools used for WIPO trademark research, including WIPO trademark classification.

WIPO Trademark Classification

Before diving into WIPO trademark search we first briefly cover trademark classification.
The WIPO covers various international classifications but for the purposes of trademark research, we focus on the Nice Classification. The Nice Classification is an internationally recognized system classifying goods and services.

Check out this out in the Trademark Application section of The Ultimate Trademark Guide for a step-by-step guide to determining the proper trademark classification for a USPTO trademark application, as an illustrative example.

WIPO Design Classification

Just as the Nice Classification categorizes goods and services, when it comes to designs, the Vienna Classification categorizes design elements of a mark. Similarly, the design categories are used to determine the scope of trademark research and it is used to prepare trademark registration applications. For an example USPTO design search check out this section in The Ultimate Trademark Guide. It shows how to determine the proper design code for a mark and how that’s then used to research for conflicting marks.

The Madrid System

The Madrid System is an international system of trademarks for support at each stage of the international trademark registration lifecycle. This section covers the Search tools of the Madrid e-seriv

WIPO Global Brand Database

The primary search tool used with the WIPO is the Global Brand Database. Much like our coverage of the USPTO TESS system, the Global Brand Database allows researchers to search a trademark database using different variables to narrow a search. Now we cover WIPO research using the Global Brand Database!

WIPO Trademark Search

Upon accessing the Global Brand Database, you’ll see the following:

WIPO Global Brand Database home page.
WIPO Global Brand Database

While there are many great features to explore, let’s focus on the search box:

WIPO Global Brand Database search box
WIPO Global Brand Database Search Box

Let’s begin wit the first tab “Brand.” This is the default search mode and it’s tremendously powerful. As the text input fields specify, a user can search for the text of a trademark, image class (using common words or design codes), and goods or services (using common words).

WIPO Global Brand Database search box.

The “Names” tab on the search box searches for names associated with a trademark, namely, the holder or owner of the trademark or its representative.

WIPO Global Brand Database Search Box.

Moving on, the “Numbers” tab on the search box searches for numbers associated with a trademark listing, or the registration or application number.

WIPO Global Brand Database search box

Next, the “Dates” tab is for searching the registration date, the application date, or the expiration date of the trademark. 

WIPO Global Brand Database Search Box

The “Class” tab is for design classification or goods/services classification trademark search.

WIPO Global Brand Database Search Box

Finally, the “Country” tab is for searching for the origin of a mark’s use, the designation country, or the country of the holder.

So the WIPO Global Design Database features a powerful user friendly search box for researching various features of applied-for or registered international trademarks.

USPTO Trademark Research

The USPTO is a federal agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce that issues patents for inventions and registrations for trademarks. The primary tool used for conducting USPTO research is the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). A web-based interface for the public to research the USPTO database.

The USPTO offers a free research service (TESS) and it’s available here.

The homepage of TESS shows three search options:

USPTO TESS home.
TESS Search Home

Basic USPTO TESS Trademark Name Search

The basic USPTO TESS research tool allows research by word mark, USPTO trademark serial number, USPTO trademark registration number, and/or owner information. The research can be narrowed by selecting Plural or Singular or Live trademark or Dead trademark. Finally an option to define search operators.

USPTO TESS basic trademark search.
TESS Basic Word Mark Search

Selecting Live will narrow the research to only live (or active) trademark registrations. Selecting Dead will narrow the research to only inactive registrations.

Why does the USPTO maintain dead trademarks? Even though a trademark is inactive, because trademark rights may be based on the use of the mark, even dead trademark registrations might be noteworthy.

Example Basic Search

Let’s run through a sample search using the basic USPTO TESS research tool:

USPTO TESS basic trademark search example.

For this research example, the word “NIKE” is entered as an input term, leaving all other options at the default setting. Let’s search!

The research yields the following results:

USPTO search results page.

Taking a closer look at this trademark search results page, there are a few items to note-

First, this example trademark search yielded 168 trademark search records.

Second, each trademark search result is in a row with a trademark serial number, a trademark registration number, the trademark word mark, a TSDR status, and a designation of Live or Dead.

Clicking on the trademark serial number, trademark registration number, trademark word mark, or Live/Dead designation will lead to the USPTO trademark search database entry for that trademark.

The TSDR link leads to a different tool which we will cover later, the Trademark Status Document Retrieval System (TSDR), a repository for USPTO trademark registration filings and USPTO correspondence, such as trademark office actions.

Example USPTO Search Database Entry

The USPTO trademark search database entry for a trademark looks like this:

USPTO database entry page.
USPTO database entry page.

The USPTO trademark search database entry page provides a snapshot of information about this particular USPTO registered (though possibly dead) trademark word mark:

  • Word Mark.
  • Goods and Services: Classification of goods or services used with the trademark and a description of the goods or services. Also listed is the date of first use and the date of first use in commerce.
  • Mark Drawing Code: A numerical code for the type of trademark drawing, in this case, 4 for Standard Character Mark.
  • Serial Number: Unique numerical designation given to all applications.
  • Filing Date.
  • Current Basis: One of four possible filing bases.
  • Original Filing Basis.
  • Published for Opposition: Public opposition publish date.
  • Owner.
  • Attorney of Record.
  • Prior Registrations.
  • Type of Mark.
  • Register.
  • Live/Dead Indicator.

Now that you have an understanding of the USPTO TESS basic trademark search tool, let’s dive deeper into advanced USPTO trademark search.

Advanced USPTO TESS Trademark Name Search

The remaining two types of USPTO TESS trademark search tools are advanced methods of trademark search.

USPTO TESS home.
TESS Home

Before diving into USPTO TESS structured trademark search we will take a detour into trademark design search. This will give us another trademark search term to use in our example USPTO TESS trademark search.

Searching for design trademarks is necessarily more advanced than basic word mark research. With design research, begin with the Design Search Code Manual and then use numerical designations to search for trademarks.

USPTO Design Research

In order to conveniently search trademark designs, trademark designs are numerically catalogued into Trademark Design Search Codes.

The USPTO Trademark Design Search Manual is divided into 29 numerical trademark design code categories each one covering broad types of design. For example the USPTO Trademark Design Code 01 includes “Celestial bodies, natural phenomena, geographical maps”:

USPTO design code example.

Now that we covered USPTO Trademark Design Search Codes, let’s consider an example USPTO trademark search:

USPTO Trademark Design Search Code Example:

Let’s say we have a trademark design that we want to register with the USPTO. The design consists of a rainbow over the word “CREATURE.”

The First Step: Browse the USPTO Trademark Design Search Codes for categories that would cover a rainbow trademark design. USPTO Trademark Design Search Code Category 01 covers “Natural Phenomena” and since a rainbow is a natural phenomenon, we take a closer look at this category.

USPTO design code category example.

Category 01 is further divided into division. Natural phenomena 01.15 seems like a promising USPTO Trademark Design Search Code division to find rainbows.

Within that USPTO Trademark Design Search Code “Natural Phenomena” division, we find rainbow designs under the first subsection (01.15.01):

USPTO design code category subsection example.

That is an example of how to find the USPTO Trademark Design Search Code for rainbows, our example trademark design.

Now that we have a USPTO Trademark Design Search Code, let’s return to advanced USPTO TESS Trademark search to continue our example using the USPTO Trademark Design Search Code (0.1.15.01, for Rainbows).

Returning to the USPTO TESS Trademark Search homepage, there are two advanced trademark search options, structured and free form.

Structured USPTO TESS Trademark Search

USPTO TESS options.
TESS Trademark Search Home

Recalling our example, we have a design trademark that is a rainbow over the word “CREATURE” so let’s begin by researching these parameters in the structured trademark search tool:

USPTO structured TESS.

The structured search interface, like the basic trademark search, has a few parameters you can use to narrow your trademark search. Notably, the structures trademark search uses an operator to combined trademark search parameters.

An operator is used to narrow or expand a trademark search query. In this example, I’ve included the operator OR which means that my trademark search is for the USPTO Trademark Design Search Code for Rainbows OR the word “CREATURE” (as opposed to AND which would return trademark entries that contain both, not one or the other).

So let’s see what we find!

USPTO TESS results page.

Understanding the Search Results Page

Let’s break this trademark search results page down:

The first point to note is that there are 3020 database records found, and that’s a lot, so my initial trademark search is likely overly broad and returning trademark search results that are too far removed from my trademark.

Second to note, at the top “Refine Search” gives us a hint at what a free form advanced USPTO trademark search looks like, but more on that later.

Third, much like the search results page of the basic USPTO trademark search, we see a list of results which for each entry includes, trademark serial number, trademark registration number, trademark word mark, a TSDR link, and a live/dead designation.

What about the trademark search results that don’t have a word mark listed? Those are marks without words in them so they are likely only designs.

While the structured USPTO trademark search tool is useful, the most powerful advanced USPTO trademark search tool is the free form trademark search.

Free Form USPTO TESS Trademark Search

The free form search tool allows users the ability to link together dozens of search parameters in one query. Unlike the basic or structured tool, the free form interface is merely a text input box, with a list of field codes to choose from when conducting a trademark search.

While the free form tool might seem daunting at first, once you get the hang of it, it will quickly become your preferred tool because it’s very powerful and it’s the same tool used by the USPTO examining attorneys who will review your application (more on this below).

As we recall from the example structured research above, we included an OR operator and so returned thousands of results because we are seeing results that either have the word “CREATURE” or have designated the rainbow design code. These are a lot of results so let’s narrow the research with the free form tool.

You can navigate over to a Free Form search at the top of the structured search results page or back on the main TESS homepage.

USPTO TESS search bar.
TESS Search Results Navigation Bar

In the image below, you can see what our prior structured search looks like in the free form tool (rainbow design code or the word “CREATURE”).

USPTO TESS structured search page with example.
TESS Free Form Search Home Page

In the free form tool, you build queries using parameters (also known as Field Codes).

So our structured search looks like this in the free form tool:

(01.15.01)[DD] – Our design code for rainbows assigned the DD Field Code and

(creature)[BI] – Our word assigned the BI Field Code, and both separated by the or operator.

Now that we have a sense of how the free form tool works, let’s add to this hypothetical research.

USPTO Trademark Classifications

Let’s imagine that the example mark (the rainbow with the word “CREATURE”) is used with a mobile application. So I want to narrow my search results by only searching for other mobile applications that use a rainbow or the word “CREATURE.”

This can be accomplished by adding another Field Code, [IC] for International Class.

As you’ll recall from our example TESS database entry page all trademarks applied-for or registered with the USPTO are classified based on the goods or services they are associated with.

USPTO TESS Database Entry

In this sample database entry page, the Classification of Goods and Services used with the mark are IC 035 for retail store services, generally.

Much like the USPTO Design Codes, the International Class is a numerical value used to categorize goods and services. A list of the trademark classifications can be found here.

Let’s go through the list of classifications to find the correct class for our example research, mobile applications:

Trademark classification example for downloadable computer software.
Using Trademark Classifications

Browsing through the classifications, Class 9, which includes downloadable computer software, like mobile applications is the correct class. So let’s use this as an additional search parameter using the free form field code [IC] to trying narrowing down our research example.

Free Form Research Using Trademark Classifications

Our free form search construction now looks like this:

“(01.15.01)[DD] or (creature)[BI] and (009)[GS]”

The first two parameters are the same as above, searching for rainbow designs or the word “CREATURE.” Since this search is narrowed down to only search for marks registered in class 09 the and operator is used along with the field code for classifications and the numerical class designation found above “009.”

The search yields the following results:

USPTO TESS search results page.

Adding another search parameter substantially reduced the number of results, from 3,020 to only 93. It would be useful to browse these results because they are all applied-for, registered, or inactive database entries that either use the rainbow design or include the word “CREATURE” and are associated with the category of goods which includes mobile applications.

Free Form searching can become endlessly complex, and there are variables that can be used to replace single characters or add characters. Here is a useful guide for using advanced search constructors.

It’s also important to bear in mind the goal of research. One of the primary reasons to search for trademarks is to uncover marks that might prevent you from registering your mark. As we will discuss more in the section on trademark applications, the standard used by the USPTO to refuse registration because another mark is found, is when the applied-for mark is confusingly similar to a registered active mark.

USPTO Examining Attorneys Use Free Form Research

USPTO Examining Attorneys use the free form search tool to uncover confusingly similar marks when examining trademark applications.

Interestingly for each registered or applied-for mark, we can see what the examining attorney searched for!

Here is one example of an examining attorney’s search history while examining the mark “KR3TURE”:

Example search by a USPTO examining attorney.
Example Search by a USPTO Examining Attorney

From this we can see that the Examining Attorney spent 89 minutes researching for conflicting marks for this particular application. We can also see how complex the free form search constructions became under the “Search” column:

“*{“kcqx”}r{v:2}t{v}r{v}*[bi,ti] not dead[ld]”

This is far more complex than our free form example research above, but decipherable (don’t forget to check this out for more on advanced search constructors).

The * at the beginning means to include additional characters in place of the asterisk.

The”{“kcqx”}” replaces the consonant sounds of the target word mark with any of those included in the brackets.

Then there are a series of replaceable vowel variables and the letters “r”, “t”, and “r” (so the examining attorney is searching for various replacement vowels between the letters of the target word mark).

The construction ends with another asterisk.

In other words, the examining attorney examined the applied-for mark “KR3TURE” and used free form search to include in the results words that used different consonants and vowels, and with additional characters before and after the word.

This is a great insight into how an examining researches for conflicting marks for an application.

Now equipped with the knowledge of trademark research and how an examining attorney conducts research on an application, the next section provides a step-by-step guide to USPTO trademark applications.

The Ultimate Trademark Guide Sections:

Learn Trademark Basics

Trademark Search Step-By-Step Guide

How to Fill Out a Trademark Application

What Happens During Trademark Examination

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