Free Internet Trademark Searches
Effective management of intangible assets like trademarks is part of any successful business strategy. Trademarks are invaluable assets as their role in the traditional brick & mortar and Internet market place is multi-dimensional: identify the products of the owner and distinguish them from the goods of other makers; identify uniformity and quality associated with the trademarked products; and represent the goodwill and reputation in the industry developed by the maker of the product. Trademark owners, therefore, must consistently police and enforce their trademark rights as any unauthorized or conflicting use of their trademark may cause Internet search re-direction, or result in the owner of the trademark not being solely identified in the mind of the public with the owner's goods, or otherwise weaken the value of the trademark. Due to the amount of investment spent in connection with a trademark and the general requirement to police and enforce, it is extremely prudent to exercise caution and rationale in picking and using an enforceable and non-infringing trademark. This article explains how to conduct free Internet trademark searches to help avoid infringement issues. It is essentially imperative and certainly wise for any business to conduct a comprehensive trademark search prior to picking and investing on a trademark. A comprehensive trademark search will help identify the obvious trademark infringement issues and legal risks involved in adopting a mark.
The following paragraphs set out the best sources available to date for conducting free Internet trademark searches. The free searches can be used to help weed out trademarks before presenting the issue before your legal counsel (which will obviously save money). The free searches also will help in the ultimate decision on whether to use and/or register the trademark.
A comprehensive trademark search must include both registered and unregistered trademarks. A federally registered mark notifies the general public of registrant’s claim of ownership of the mark and constitutes prima facie evidence of the registration’s validity and exclusive right to use the mark in commerce in connection with the goods and services specified in the registration certificate. Unregistered marks have limits on their "common law" rights and remedies, however unregistered marks still have the potential to stop someone from subsequent use and/or registering of a similar or confusingly similar trademark.
Sources for Conducting Free Internet Trademark Searches
United States Patent and Trademark Office Trademark Database http://www.uspto.gov/(consists of only federal pending and registered trademarks, does not include state registrations or any common law marks);
These initial screening searches assist in making a decision on whether the proposed trademark is worthy of further consideration. Typically, the searches relating to products / goods in the food and drug industry should focus on International Classes 3, 5, 9, 10, 16, 29 to 33, and 42. Any identical or confusingly similar search result should be considered a red flag. If a conflict exists, it is wise to choose another trademark (see How to Pick a Trademark) or contact your attorney to advise on the matter.
If you decide to persist with your adoption / registration efforts, the next step is to search for conflicting or confusingly similar common law uses, including the internet domain names. Common law searches can be done on popular internet search engines like http://www.google.com/; http://www.altavista.com/; http://www.alltheweb.com/; http://www.infoseek.com/, etc. The search results are often extremely lengthy as thousands of listings of unregistered marks exist in Internet commerce.
At this juncture, it is prudent and strongly recommended to turn in the search results to a trademark attorney for legal analysis. The trademark attorney will then conduct further investigation if necessary (i.e. investigate common law rights, or recommend ordering a T & T search for a more complete/full search, etc.). Your attorney will then formulate an availability and registrability opinion taking into account the potential conflicts, risks and options which exist.
International Trademark Searches
Initial screening trademark searches for potential trademark conflicts in foreign jurisdictions can be performed online on the respective Trademark Office home pages. For example, European Community trademark searches can be conducted at http://oami.eu.int/; Canadian trademarks can be searched at http://cipo.gc.ca/; Australian trademark databases can be accessed at http://www.ipaustralia.gov.au/; New Zealand Trademark Database can be searched at http://www.iponz.govt.nz/. However, these searches are mainly for weeding out purposes, and for a comprehensive legal analysis and identification of potential conflicts opinion, we strongly recommend consulting a trademark attorney.