Trademarks serve as potentially powerful elements of a company’s broader intellectual property protection strategy. Unlike reproducible inventions, which are generally only enforceable once the government has issued an explicit patent for the work in question, trademarks are somewhat protected as soon as they are utilized. Formal registration of trademarks reinforces the rights of their owners.
The fact that trademark owners have some rights as soon as a mark is used in the public domain can make it more difficult to determine when a specific trademark is already in use. Thankfully, using certain resources and seeking legal guidance will give you or your company a strong sense of whether a mark you’d like to register is already in use.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) offers a free public database that is commonly referred to as TESS. TESS stands for “Trademark Electronic Search System.” This database contains information regarding registered marks and marks that have been applied for at the federal level.
By searching information related to the kind of mark you’re interested in protecting, you’ll be able to assess whether similar marks have already been protected. If your work is too similar to a protected mark, you’ll benefit from making modifications to yours before submitting it for formal registration.
By researching existing trademarks at the federal level, you’ll be able to better determine whether a trademark is already in widespread use. After making that effort, you can speak with a legal professional about covering your bases at the state level and in re: current use within commerce. Once you’ve been proactive in these ways, you’ll hopefully be able to register your own mark with confidence.