Trademarks vs Trade names

Trademarks and trade names are often confused. Trade names are names used to identify companies or businesses and are not in the trademark register. Trademarks are a "mark, symbol, device or a combination thereof" used as a mark in commerce by companies to identify goods or services.

Searching for prior use of a company TRADE NAME involves looking through company directory type sources either online or in printed format. A preliminary search can be made, but when the company name is registered the owner may be notified of prior use. Whatever searching we do here will not be conclusive but will assist in determining if the name chosen is in common use.

Searching for TRADEMARKS or product names is also not conclusive, but we do have access to some printed sources and online databases which will help you know whether a product name has been used. It is not necessary to register a trademark in the United States in order to have exclusive rights to use it, but a federally registered trademark does provide legal benefits not afforded to common law marks. We have sources in Reference which list trademarks. Trademarks are published weekly and in annual cumulations by the U.S. Government.

When we are asked to do a trademark search, we try to determine whether you are asking about a product name or a business name. Remember whatever searching is done is just a beginning point, much like a patent search. We are only assisting in the consideration of names and there is no way we can absolutely determine whether the name you have selected is registered. Trademarks also use classification numbers and there are many subtle differences to be considered when registering a trademark. We suggest using one of the many sources we have describing the trademark process:

Starting Points

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

For complete information on trademarks.

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Helpful Websites

Intellectual Property (LegalZoom)

Service that connects users with attorneys who assist with trademark searching and filing.

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World Intellectual Property Organization

WIPO is the global forum for intellectual property services, policy, information and cooperation. They are a self-funding agency of the United Nations, with 191 member states.

Their mission is to lead the development of a balanced and effective international intellectual property (IP) system that enables innovation and creativity for the benefit of all. Their mandate, governing bodies and procedures are set out in the WIPO Convention, which established WIPO in 1967.

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Ophelia Chapman

Business and Communication Studies Librarian
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