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Tips for conducting a trademark clearance search

Any business owner looking to distinguish themselves would be wise to protect the elements that set them apart. This can be possible through trademarking any word, symbol, design or phrase your company uses to identify itself in the marketplace.

However, owners must conduct diligent research before settling on identifying material for a company. Part of this research includes performing a trademark clearance search.

Elements of trademark clearance

Before adopting a mark, you should determine whether the mark is available and protectable. Searching for existing trademarks allows you to avoid the costly consequences of an infringement lawsuit, product redesign and rebranding.

There is a wide range of places to search when it comes to trademark clearance. You can start with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The USPTO has a searchable database that allows users to search for trademarked words, brands and even images.

However, further research is still necessary, as it can be difficult to search the database for all possible similar marks. And the federal USPTO database includes only registered trademarks.

As such, parties can also check domain names, newspaper listings, internet searches and phone book listings.

When searching, keep in mind that merely searching for a single word or image is likely not going to suffice. You also should search for similar marks and marks with a slightly different spelling. Therefore, consider and include in your search all the variations of your name or image.

Putting it all together

Once you have conducted a thorough trademark clearance search, you can address the following questions.

  • Is the trademark active, or has it been abandoned?
  • What is the likelihood of confusion between your mark and something similar?
  • Are the businesses similar?
  • Where do you do business?

These questions can allow you to make informed decisions on whether to proceed or make changes.

Failure to conduct a comprehensive trademark search can become a very real problem for businesses who wind up facing allegations of trademark infringement. Even if the alleged violation is inadvertent, you could be looking at lawsuits and cease and desist orders.

Considering all that rests on the thoroughness of a trademark clearance search, business owners may want to rely on experienced professionals for help and guidance. For more insights on trademark clearance, download our ebook, What’s in a Name.


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