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How to Research Trademarks

Apr 1, 2008

by Sarah Feingold handmade and vintage goods

The next time you’re eating a candy bar, a bag of chips, or even breakfast cereal, take a closer look at the packaging.  You may see various symbols following the brand name or the logo.  What do these symbols mean?

Some of these symbols may have to do with trademarks.  The symbol TM (for trademark) and SM (for servicemark) may indicate that someone is claiming the identifier as a mark but it has no legal significance.  The ® symbol is an international symbol to show that the mark is registered at the national level (in the U.S., that’s on a federal registrar).  However, a mark may be protected even if it is not registered at the national level.

As I explained in my previous article, a trademark is a word, phrase, design, or other feature that primarily serves to identify the source of a product or service. These symbols may indicate that someone is claiming a mark as a way to identify the source of a product.  If a mark is descriptive and weak, using the TM symbol will not improve its status.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website has a free database of all marks that have been applied for, including those that were refused.  Navigating this site can be confusing! So try the following steps:

1) Go to  Click on the “Trademarks” link on the navigation.  Then select “Trademark Search.”


2) Choose “Basic Word Mark Search (New User)”

3) Type in your inquiry in the “Search Term” field and click “Submit Query.”  You can also narrow the search by using the advanced features.  Once you have viewed the results of your search, click on your Internet browser’s “back” button to search again.  Remember, this database only contains marks with current or expired federal United States trademark registrations.  It does not contain registrations from other countries or US states (state registers only record marks used within that state).

Remember, if you search the USPTO website and find no matches, the mark might still be protected.  This is because the United States has no centralized national register: a mark might be registered in another country, a mark may be registered on the state level, and a mark may be protected even if the mark is not registered anywhere.

So put down your snack (just for a second) and take a closer look at the symbols on the packaging.  And remember, some business names, product names, or brand names are also registered trademarks.  If you wonder whether a word or phrase is a registered trademark in the U.S., try doing a trademark search on the USPTO. It’s a good place to start in your research!

You can ask general questions below or suggest article topics in the comments. But don’t ask any personal business questions (best to keep that stuff private, y’all!).

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  • FunkyQuail

    FunkyQuail said 12 years ago

    Very informative! Thank you, Sarah!

  • Irishkatydid

    Irishkatydid said 12 years ago

    how do trademarks affect someone who may use a TM logo on a piece of artwork? IE: I make a piece of collage art using an old bottle cap that has pepsi logo on it. thank you

  • PenguinsPlunder

    PenguinsPlunder said 11 years ago

    Great help, thanks so much!

  • humbleheartdb59

    humbleheartdb59 said 11 years ago

    very informative! Thank you so much....Dianna

  • JemaJewels

    JemaJewels said 10 years ago

    Thank you for such a concise article and great infomation. Mary Lynn

  • Lumorgan

    Lumorgan said 10 years ago

    I love the article but was wondering if you could answer one question. I did several searches for LittleLuLu's... I now that the singular has been used for several things, however adding the plural does that change it enough to use it? Thank you for you time and information, you have been wonderful.

  • oneofakindthreads

    oneofakindthreads said 10 years ago

    I am not sure if adding the plural is enough, I have been using legal zoom for my trademark questions. I make clothing and beauty products and I am trying to see if I need to have 2 trademarks our can use just one. Since the government site says that since my items are so different, that it requires me buying 2 trademarks. If any one have any info on this it would be great to hear.

  • 1velle

    1velle said 10 years ago

    WOW! So much stuff just to sell a few precious items. it seems to me that you have almost everything that a person needs to get started or continue to sell their quality handmade goods. i almost don't know where to begin. Just a little at a time and then I'll learn. I'm sure once I get going I'll be able to remove some of the covers and blossom. After all that work no one wants to be ripped off. that saying, "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail" is something i do not intend to do. Thank you!

  • flippingout

    flippingout said 9 years ago

    Great help, thanks for this article. Just want you to know that you want to change #3 to #2 for which to click on the Trademark page. :)

  • Lizto9744

    Liz Toscano from LiztoAtelier said 7 years ago

    Mind blowing! but helpful, still don't feel any less determined, and so I am continuing my journey toward success!

  • bcheri

    Beth from PieceByNumberQuilts said 6 years ago

    Please, how can a mark be protected even if the mark is not registered anywhere?

  • scgy5101

    Chen said 5 years ago

    That is a great and useful article. But I am still facing some problems. I have tried my shop's name on TESS. And it shows that there is no records matches. But I am still worry about is there any other possibilities that some one uses the same name as mine. Is there any good method to clear this possibilities. Thank you!!

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