The U.S. trademark registration process has several important steps. The first step is for the applicant to conduct a search of all current registered trademarks using the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) trademark registration database.
The search usually consists of reviewing all registered trademarks which contain words, symbols or designs similar or identical to the words, symbols or designs used in the proposed trademark. The USPTO can refuse registration for proposed trademarks which are confusingly similar to a registered trademark.
The USPTO manages an extensive online database containing descriptions, examples, images and registration details for all U.S registered trademarks. Searches can be performed for specific designs, words or phrases. The online database can be found here: https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-application-process/search-trademark-database
For example, an applicant can search for all registered trademarks containing a ‘moon shape’ and all registered trademarks containing the word ‘moon’. The goal of the trademark search is to provide the applicant with an idea of whether or not the proposed trademark is confusingly similar to a previously registered trademark and if the proposed trademark infringes on any previously registered trademarks.
If the proposed trademark is found to be similar to a registered trademark, there is a possibility the proposed trademark will not be accepted for registration with the USPTO due to the similarity with a previously registered trademark. The applicant can challenge a similarity ruling by the USPTO through the court system.
However, this can be a very long and expensive fight, so it is generally a better idea to create a new design for a proposed trademark rather than contest the USPTO decision. The trademark search process can help determine if the trademark will need revision prior to filing the trademark application with the USPTO to avoid similarity with previously registered trademarks.
Even if a thorough search is performed prior to filing the trademark application, and it does not appear that the trademark would infringe upon any existing registered trademarks, it is still possible the USPTO will find the trademark to be confusingly similar to other registered trademarks.
After the trademark application is filed with the USPTO, the USPTO performs its own trademark search to determine by separate review if the proposed trademark infringes a registered trademark. The USPTO has access to pending applications as well as registered applications. Pending applications also include applications pending the grant of a trademark to a third party to determine if such mark infringes on a pending trademark registration. Such access allows the USPTO to search more filings and registrations than the individual business can.
For this reason, the USPTO often finds similar trademarks which the business does not find doing its own trademark search. Accordingly, the initial search by the business owner of registered trademarks may not reveal the same information that is available to the USPTO. This can cause confusion to business owners who believe a search has been completed on their proposed trademark and no conflicting trademarks were discovered.