Legal How-To: Looking Up Patents, Trademarks

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on February 11, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

How do you look up a patent or trademark? As today is National Inventors Day, it's a question many creative minds may be wondering about.

When contemplating a patent or trademark, it's important to conduct a preliminary patent and trademark search to make sure there isn't one that's similar -- or even identical -- to your idea.

Regardless of the reason for your search, there are a variety of ways to search for a patent or trademark.

Searching for Patents

Here are three ways to perform an online patent search:

  1. USPTO database. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office allows full-text and image database searches for patents.
  2. Google patent search. If you're more comfortable using a search engine other than the USPTO database, Google also has a free patent search engine tool that synthesizes the USPTO's information. Pro: It's more user-friendly than the USPTO's site. Con: It's in beta, so there may be a few hiccups here and there.
  3. Fee-based services. There are also a number of fee-based services that include extensive search functions. One example: Thomson Innovation (which, like, is owned by Thomson Reuters).

Searching for Trademarks

Similarly, here are three ways to go about performing an online trademark search:

  1. USPTO database. Like patents, you can do your own search of trademarks registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
  2. Search engines. For initial screening -- and to find unregistered trademarks, which can affect your ability to register a trademark -- you can try using a regular search engine. Web searches can help you see how and where the name you want is being used.
  3. Fee-based services. You may choose to use a fee-based trademark search engine, such as the database available through Thomson CompuMark (which, like, is owned by Thomson Reuters). It boasts a range of features, including initial trademark screening, deeper screening, flexible search options, search templates, and flexible reporting and exporting for easy sharing with clients and colleagues.

Need More Help?

Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive. If searching on your own doesn't produce the results you were looking for, an experienced intellectual property lawyer can provide additional guidance on how to perform a search for patents and trademarks.

Are you facing a legal issue you'd like to handle on your own? Suggest a topic for our Legal How-To series by sending us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #HowTo.

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