Whether you’re starting a business and forming an LLC, changing your existing business name or developing a new product with a clever name, knowing how to check trademarks to protect your intellectual property rights can be crucial.
Getting a trademark for your business name, product or service name, or other unique intellectual property (IP) owned by your business, is a way of creating a “brand name” for your company and for what you sell. A trademark can help you differentiate your brand in the marketplace, charge premium prices and establish a competitive advantage.
By protecting your intellectual property with a trademark, you can defend against imitators and duplicators trying to cash in on your brand, and you will have certain legal rights and protections in case someone tries to steal your brand name.
Many people wonder if they have to hire a trademark lawyer in order to get an actual trademark. While it is often a good idea to consult an intellectual property lawyer before getting your trademark, you can go through certain steps of the process by yourself, which can save you some money in the long run.
The process of obtaining and getting approval for a trademark can be done a few different ways. Let’s look at some of the various ways to search for a trademark and if it would be wise to hire a trademark lawyer to help move things along quickly.
Consult the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website is the first place you should look when you’re ready to learn more about how to search trademarks. Their site has a great overview of trademark basics, with details on what you need to know about the trademark application and filing process, and what requirements are expected of people applying for trademarks.
For example, if you are a foreign-domiciled person, you are required to hire a U.S.-licensed lawyer to represent you in the trademark application process. If you are a U.S.-domiciled trademark applicant, you are not required to use a lawyer, but the application process is complicated and the USPTO strongly encourages applicants to get professional help from a lawyer specializing in trademark law.
Your trademark also needs to meet a few requirements:
- It must be federally registerable.
- Your trademarked goods and services must be properly identifiable.
- You must choose a proper filing basis for your application.
The USPTO has a trademark search tool called the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS), where people can look for existing trademarks and pending applications. The TESS tool is open to the public and free to use, and it is a good first step in making sure your idea for a trademark has not already been taken.
The TESS tool is complicated, and there are multiple options for how to search with it. Read the TESS tips carefully to make sure you are searching accurately and getting thorough results. You don’t want to mistakenly think your trademark name is available, only to discover later a different company already owns it.
The USPTO website and TESS search tool are a good place to begin your trademark search to help you understand the application process and know your options.
Hire a Professional Trademark Lawyer
If you don’t have the time, expertise or energy to figure out the USPTO website by yourself, consider hiring a professional trademark lawyer to conduct your trademark search and give you professional advice on how to get one. A trademark lawyer is an individual who specializes in and is experienced with trademark law.
Hiring your own trademark search lawyer can save you time and help you get an accurate search result and a legally protected brand name. However, the cost could be a deterrent.
Lawyers tend to bill by the hour. If you end up spending a few hundred dollars per hour for a lawyer to do the initial trademark search you could have done yourself, it may not be a smart investment of your resources. And what if your trademark lawyer wants to set you up with an excessively complicated trademark filing, with extra costs and filing fees that you didn’t want or need?
It may be wise to interview a few different trademark lawyers to see how much they charge and gauge if they are someone you’d want to work with.
As mentioned earlier, if the U.S. is your legal home, you don't need to hire a trademark lawyer. You can decide to go through the process on your own and keep some money in your pocket.
How to Find a Trademark Lawyer
To find and locate a trademark lawyer, a simple Google search with the term “trademark lawyer” and your city and state should come up with several results. The USPTO suggests using the American Bar Associate website to find a lawyer who "has experience prosecuting trademark applications at the USPTO and handling proceedings before the TTAB [Trademark Trial and Appeal Board]."
If you hire a trademark lawyer, they will either schedule a call with you, or you may go back and forth via email, gathering all the information needed to file your trademark. They can help you narrow down your search, notify you of any issues, explain if your idea can even be trademarked and come up with recommendations if a new trademark would be needed, so there are no infringement issues or potential lawsuits.
A positive about working with a trademark lawyer is that any communication from the USPTO will be sent to your trademark lawyer, who can handle all correspondence. This can be a lifesaver if you’ve never filed a trademark before. Receiving correspondence from an examining attorney for the USPTO that is full of legal terminology can be confusing. Having a professional to handle it all can take a large amount of work off of your plate.
Incfile Trademark Search and Registration
There's another option for how to search trademarks that offers the best of both worlds: professional guidance through the process and an affordable price.
Incfile offers a trademark name search and registration service, which includes legal counsel from one of our experienced trademark lawyer partners. The cost is only $199 plus the standard federal filing fee.
When you sign up for Incfile’s trademark search and registration service, you’re getting professional legal advice and guidance to conduct a complete search of existing trademarks to ensure your choice is available and able to be registered and “owned” by your business.
You’ll receive professional help throughout the USPTO application process until your trademark name is approved and registered. And all at an affordable flat fee with no surprises.
You don’t have to go it alone when registering a trademark for your business. Incfile can provide the legal help needed so that you can save time, protect your intellectual property rights and get on with growing your business.