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Information on understanding what a trademark is and what a copyright covers.


A trademark ("mark") is a word or words, or symbol or graphic design, or combinations of these elements that designate the source of products (goods) – it’s a brand name or logo.

Trademarks are displayed on the products and/or the packaging.  A service mark is a mark used for services.

Trademark rights provide protection against unauthorized use of a confusingly similar mark.

Trademark rights are created by commercial use of the trademark.  The ™ trademark symbol, or the  SM service mark symbol, should be displayed after unregistered marks.  Word marks should also be distinguished from neighboring text by a different font style and/or font size.

Federal registration enhances the protections given to the trademark rights created by proper use.  The ® registration symbol should be displayed after federally registered marks

The ® registration symbol should never be displayed after marks that are not federally registered.

A generic term for the product or service sold is not eligible for registration or protection.

Words that describe the product or service, or a feature thereof, or an ingredient therein, are not eligible for registration on the Principal Register until secondary meaning has attached to mark (words recognized by consumers as a brand name, rather than a descriptor).

For a complete list of terms necessary to understand trademarks, visit the USPTO - Glossary page.

How to Get Started

There is a six step process for conducting a trademark search:

1. U.S. Acceptable Identification of Goods and Services Manual 

Begin with this alphabetical listing of acceptable terms for the identification of goods and services. Locate terms that describe your good or service. For example, "flying discs" is the acceptable term for a flying saucer-type toy. Note the international class number listed next to each term. Also identify terms for goods and/or services that are used, advertised or sold with your product. For instance, peanut butter is sold and used with jellies and jams. Finally, check for deleted terms that may be related to your good or service.

 2. International Schedule of Classes 

Scan the schedule for additional classes that are related to your product or service. For instance, if your product is income tax preparation software, Class 36 would be related because it includes services related to insurance, financial affairs, monetary affairs and real estate. The schedule is located on the back cover of the Basic Facts About Trademarks booklet.

3. Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP) (Available in paper or on the USPTO Web)

Review Chapter 1400 for the appropriate class scope notes in order to confirm the terms and classes you have chosen. For example, Class 8 (Hand Tools) includes cutlery but not surgical knives, which are in Class 10 (Medical Apparatus), or fencing weapons, which are found in Class 28 (Toys and Sporting Goods).

4. Design Code Manual (Available in paper or on the USPTO Web)

If your mark incorporates a design or logo you must search for trademarks that might be confusingly similar. Use the index in the back of the Design Code Manual to locate the appropriate six-digit code for each design element in your mark. For example, a logo depicting an eagle would be coded 03.15.01. Each element in a logo is assigned a design code. Carefully review the guidelines for each category.

5. Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) 

Conduct the search combining your word mark or logo with the terms, classes and design codes you’ve identified in steps 1-4. Remember to search for alternate spellings, phonetic and foreign language equivalents, synonyms and homonyms. For example, SNOW BRITE, SNOW BRIGHT, SNO-BRITE, SNO-BRIGHT, SNOW WHITE, etc.

6. TARR Trademark Status Database 

Finally, check TARR, the Trademark Applications & Registrations Retrieval system, for the current status of the marks you found in Step 5. Records in the Web trademark databases are linked directly to their TARR equivalents. The TARR database is updated daily at 5 a.m. and contains important trademark application and registration information not found on CD-ROM, the Web or in the Official Gazette .


There are seventeen USTPO-produced videos/tutorials to help you understand the trademark searching and filing process.