How to Check If a Logo Trademark Is Already Registered
Let’s find out how to check if a logo trademark is already registered!
You have finished the logo design process. You have put your time, effort, and money into designing what will be the face of your business. Of course, you are excited and ready to use it on your goods or services. But you can't use it. Not yet. You need to check if a logo trademark is already registered.
If you are using a logo that bears a resemblance to a trademarked logo, you might get into a problem. The trademark owner can sue you for trademark infringement, which can last months and cost thousands of dollars to resolve.
Or, you may have to change your brand's visual representation and spend more time and money to create a new identity to avoid litigation. You don't want to risk any of these. This is why you want to do a logo trademark search. The question is, how? Also, what tools do you need?
We can help with that. In this post, we explain what a trademark is, what it protects and what it doesn't, why trademark search is necessary, how to check if a logo trademark is already registered, strong marks vs. weak marks, whether or not trademarking your mark is important, and more.
What Is a Trademark?
It can be defined as a word, phrase, design, symbol, or a combination of any of these businesses that companies use to identify themselves as well as their products and services. Having a mark creates your brand, distinguishes you from competitors, and provides you with legal protection.
A trademark protects a piece of intellectual property. That begs the question, what can you trademark? The following can be trademarked:
- A business name
- A product name
- A design
- A logo
- A sound
- Product packaging or label
While you can trademark a logo, your application is not guaranteed to be approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. To increase the likelihood, you need a strong mark.
What Does and Doesn't It Protect?
A trademark protects you from infringement, i.e., no one else can use your mark without your authorization. In case they do, you can take legal action against them for damages caused by the infringement. It gives you the right to use your mark while preventing anyone else from using it.
It also protects you from the import of foreign goods that infringe upon your mark. In addition, trademarking a logo makes registering it in other countries easier.
While a logo trademark solidifies your ownership of it, it doesn't provide you with the exclusive right to anything generic. Nor can you prohibit others from using it in ways that are compliant with the Fair Use Doctrine.
In addition, the protection it provides is also limited to the borders of the country where you filed for the mark. If you register your logo with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, it is protected inside the U.S. only.
You do have protection against imports of foreign goods that infringe upon your mark. However, you can't enforce it around the world. If you want that legal protection in another country, you need to file a separate trademark in that country.
Why Is a Logo Trademark Lookup Necessary?
As explained earlier, a trademark grants the owner the exclusive right to use their intellectual property. In this case, their logo. The legal protection grants the owner near-total control over the logo.
The owner has the right to decide:
- if and when to sell it
- who they license its use to
- the circumstances under which the license to use is granted
- what licensing entail and how much it costs
If you are using a logo that bears a resemblance to a trademarked logo, you are committing infringement. The owner can take legal against your infringement. If they sue you, the lawsuit process will take months and possibly thousands of dollars to settle.
Not to mention you might have to change your logo to avoid litigation. We all know how costly a logo design process is when it comes to time, energy, and money. You might need to start marketing your brand identity from scratch, too. That is why a search is absolutely necessary.
To avoid any of these, you need to determine whether a logo has been registered or not. When you search, especially with the help of an experienced lawyer, you minimize the likelihood of infringement.
How to Check if a Logo Trademark Is Already Registered
1. Search for similar logos in the industry
What is the industry you are in or will enter? You are likely to have an issue when your business' logo could be interpreted as misleading the market. If another business believes that the logo you are using is designed to make your business looks like theirs, you may be in trouble.
To avoid that, start your search in the industry you are in or will enter. Try to find as many logos as possible. Then, line them up and see how yours compares to theirs. If you think your customers can tell the difference between your brand and others in the industry, you are likely fine.
If, on the other hand, your mark is starting to look too much like another business in the industry, then you want to consider designing a new one. After all, it is the face of your business. You want one that sets you apart from your competitors. Having one that looks like others' defeats that purpose.
2. Do a reverse image search on Google
Inspirations can come from anywhere, including others' works. There is nothing wrong with finding inspiration from the works of others. What is wrong is copying their works. You certainly don't want to copy others' work for the face of your business. Not even if it is accidental.
To ensure that your design is original and not a copy of another's work, do a reverse image search on Google. See if anyone has posted a similar mark online before. If there are any, consider modifying your design to minimize the similarities and make the design truly yours.
Doing this also helps you find existing logos that are not registered. Note that a trademark starts the first time a creative work (e.g., logos) is used. Even if it is not registered, the mark might still be protected under common law. Registering adds another layer of legal protection.
Note that the internet is only a resource to find existing marks. You can also find them in trade journals, phone directories, as well as other similar resources.
3. Search on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database
This is the surest way to check if a logo trademark is already registered or not. You can conduct the search online through a website or in person by visiting an office located near your community.
To do the search, you will need to do the following.
- Describe the products/services being sold with the mark
- Identify specific terms for the product/services
- Determine related products/services
- Determine your international class
4. Online search
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has a tool named Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS). Using TESS, you can do a trademark search and see if there are any registered marks that are similar to yours.
Using TESS is relatively easy if what you are searching for are name matches. When it comes to design marks, however, things can grow real complicated quickly. Before starting your search, look up your design code using the Design Search Code Manual that the website provides.
Each time you search marks, review the results for marks that share similarities to or are the same as yours. Make a list of them and take note of the types of goods or services those marks are registered for.
Then, consult the Acceptable online Identification of Goods and Services Manual that the website also provides. The manual should help you determine the types of goods or services that are most closely related to yours.
5. Offline search
You can also check if a logo trademark is already registered offline. Simply visit The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Patent and Trademark Resource Center or Public Search Facility located near your community.
6. Verify that the information is current
TESS is a very helpful tool to check if a logo trademark is already registered. It contains active and inactive registrations and applications. You can see most marks in it. That said, you might not find the recently filed ones in it.
For the most recently filed ones, you can check them on the most recent issues of the Official Gazette. Like TESS, the Official Gazette is available on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website.
Besides new marks, the Official Gazette also lists renewed registrations and canceled trademarks. Checking the Gazette will be very helpful in your search as you will know the current status of a mark you find in TESS.
7. Expanding your search and getting help
While the search process is straightforward, it can be challenging, especially so since you are looking for design marks. Getting professional help can not only save time but also give you better, more comprehensive results than you might get on your own.
There is also the issue of knowing for sure whether the similarity between your design and registered mark would prevent your application from being approved or potentially lead to an infringement claim.
Plus, TESS can only help you uncover registered marks. Marks that have state or common law rights are not in the database. Hiring an experienced lawyer can help you expand your search, get more comprehensive results, and avoid legal trouble.
8. Strong Marks vs. Weak Marks
Let's talk about strong marks vs. weak marks for a bit. After you establish that your mark is unique and distinguishable from existing marks, you want to consider its strength or weakness. This will help you predict future infringement possibilities.
The characteristics of your mark play a part in how difficult or easy it would be for a competitor to design a similar mark that is still allowed legally or for someone else to copy the mark for counterfeiting purposes.
Strong marks usually don't include commonly used words. Instead, they are arbitrary, suggestive, or fanciful. Thus, they are difficult to reproduce or counterfeit. Weak marks are the opposite. Weak marks are marks that are easy to reproduce or counterfeit. They are generic and usually include commonly used words.
When creating the face of your business, you want a strong one. That is one that allows your brand to stand apart from the crowd.
Should You Trademark Your Logo?
Designing a logo trademark is a challenging task. It takes time, effort, and money. It is only natural if you want to protect it as much as you can. But is always trademarking necessary? While there are many reasons why there are a few circumstances where trademarking might not be necessary.
Why you should trademark your logo
When a logo is trademarked, the owner has the priority to use it. The owner can take legal action if someone else is using the mark without their authorization.
In some cases, a logo trademark alone is sufficient to win the lawsuit.
If someone infringes upon your trademark, you may collect money for damages they cause.
4. Foreign Registration
If you are planning to expand your business internationally, trademarking a logo in the U.S. allows you to register it in other countries. The previous trademarking also makes future registration easier.
Why you shouldn't
1. You are not committed to the design yet
Trademarking is a major decision. How could it not? It takes time and money to do. Therefore, unless you are really committed to the design, we don't recommend trademarking it, especially so if it is a low-effort logo just to fill an empty space when your business launches. If the design is only "for now," trademarking it isn't worth the time or money.
2. It is not unique
If your logo shares similarities with another logo trademark but not to the point of causing people to get confused or getting you into legal trouble, it might not be worth registering with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
3. The business could be temporary.
If you are uncertain whether your business will last, trademarking might not be a good idea. Perhaps it is just a side hustle or something that you are not convinced to do for the long term. Whatever the reason is, if the business could be temporary, trademarking your logo is most likely not worth it.
How Much Does Trademarking Cost?
We can't provide you with the exact cost your logo trademark will cost you. That being said, we can give you an idea of how much it will cost. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office offers two filing options: TEAS Plus and TEAS Standard.
The TEAS Plus costs approx. $250/class of goods or services while the TEAS Standard costs approx. $350/class of goods or services. If you are applying for multiple trademarks, you can expect the cost to increase.
Note that a trademark will last up to 10 years. If you renew it, there will be fees for it. Also, if you hire a lawyer, there will be additional costs for their service.
How Long Does the Process Take?
How long the process takes is different from one case to another. On average, the process can take anywhere from six to nine months to over a year for an application to be processed and approved.
Keep in mind that this is the average. Yours may be shorter or longer depending on whether there are any complications in the process. In some cases, the process can take years to complete. This, however, is rare.
Having your logo ready to use no doubt feels exciting. While you might want to show the world the face of your business right away, it isn't the best practice to do so. Before deploying your brand's visual representation, you need to check the logo trademark and see if your logo has similarities to registered logos.
Firstly, do simple research on the industry you are/will be in. Check the logos of your competitors. Do yours bear a resemblance to theirs? You want a design that distinguishes you from the crowd. If your customers can differentiate your logo and others, you are likely fine.
Secondly, do a reverse image search on Google. This will help you check if there are similar logos on the internet. Thirdly, search using the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's TESS. You can also visit the Patent and Trademark Resource Center or Public Search Facility. You can see the most recently filed on Official Gazelle.
The last one is to hire an experienced lawyer to help you do a more thorough search. This step is especially helpful if you plan to trademark your mark. These are the ways you can check if a logo trademark is already registered.