You did it! 🎉
You’ve *finally* landed on the perfect name for your business.
You can already picture the fresh new logo you’ll get designed, your gorgeous website, and your business cards (do people still use those these days?)
Not to be a buzzkill — but you’re gonna need to stop right there.
Did you complete a trademark search clearance on that amazing new name of yours?
It didn’t cross your mind?
Or maybe it did, but you didn’t want the hassle of hiring a lawyer to do it?
Fair enough — legal stuff is certainly not everyone’s forte, but luckily it’s ours. 😉
And we hate to break it to you, friends, but bypassing a trademark clearance search is a huge legal no-no.🙅🏽♀️
Just because you’ve found the perfect name for your business, program, or product doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.
You might think your new name is *totally* original and SO you, but there is still the possibility someone else has already thought of it.
And here’s the thing: The name might be completely unique, but it STILL might cause confusion with you and other brands.
Not only can this make it challenging to carve out your own place in the massive world of online business, but it also might land you in some legal hot water.
So before you take it any further with your ideal business name, you’ve gotta slow it down and complete a trademark clearance search.
Let’s get into it.👇🏽
What is a Trademark?
To put it simply:
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the services of one party from those of others.
This means that you can secure the *exclusive rights* to all your potential assets by owning the mark. Having a trademark adds to the overall value of your business.
A couple examples of trademarks you might get for an online business are:
- Coaching program name
- Podcast name
- Name of signature service
- Company name
- Your IG handle
- E-course title
And SO many more.
Having these trademarks for your biz means you own them. They are yours and yours alone.
The trademark protection process ensures that others are aware that your mark is in use and this can deter potential infringers.
If you’re feeling like you still want a better understanding of exactly what a trademark is, check out this other recent blog post: What is a Trademark, Anyway?
Speaking of potential infringers…
How do YOU know that you’re not infringing on anyone’s trademark?
You complete a trademark search clearance.
Why Do I Actually Need a Search Clearance?
OK, picture this. 👇🏽
Think of your first choice name for your business.
How perfect it will look on your logo.
How proud you’re going to feel saying it to potential clients.
How exciting it will be knowing it’s all yours.
Now, imagine how *livid* you would be if you were scrolling through Insta one day and found out that someone else has the exact same name as you.
Or even a name that is just a liiiiitle too close for comfort.
You’d start worrying…
What if potential clients have been finding this account instead of mine?
How many clients have I lost over this?
What do I do to fix it?!
It’s important to put yourself in the shoes of someone whose trademark is being infringed upon. It makes you realize why completing a clearance search is *essential* to branding your biz.
And friends, if you’re the person who has infringed on someone’s trademark, you might find yourself in a scary and expensive legal situation.
We’re talking cease and desists, forced rebranding, and a whole lot more.
This means some serious lawyer fees piling up, and to make matters worse, you could potentially lose all the momentum of your marketing strategies during a forced rebranding.
Say goodbye to all the time, energy, and money you’ve poured into branding your services, products, or social media accounts, because when a cease and desist comes knocking, you need to completely rebrand. 😳
Listen, those were some epic investments you made into your biz, so don’t throw them all away by neglecting to do a trademark clearance check!
Not to mention how awkward it’s gonna be to have launched your biz under one name and then to have to turn around and be like, “Oops, sorry guys that’s not me anymoreeeee.” 🤷♀️
Don’t let this be you, sis.
3-Step Trademark Clearance Search
Let’s assume you understand WHY you need to avoid trademark infringements.
But we’ve still got to cover HOW to avoid them by completing a trademark clearance search.
The best part? A trademark clearance search can absolutely be a DIY operation.
So let’s take a look at the three steps of completing your search without hiring a lawyer.👇🏽
Step 1: Check the USPTO Database (properly)
The very first place you need to start your search is on the USPTO Database.
This is the federal agency that manages all American trademarks.
Search the mark you are hoping to own in the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS).
Here’s the catch: Just because nothing shows up in direct conflict with your name, doesn’t mean you are in the clear.
Why can’t things ever be that easy?
In this situation, it’s because the legal standard for a trademark is based on the likelihood of confusion. You won’t be able to secure your trademark if there’s a possibility of mixing up your trademark with someone else’s!
And no, you can’t sneak around this by switching up spelling or punctuation.
The entirety of the mark is being considered.
This means considering what goods and services are being sold under the similar trademarks.
If your mark has slight similarities to another but your goods and services are wildly different, you’re probably good to go.
But what if you and another coach (even if they are in another niche or industry) are a little too close for comfort? Well then, it’s back to the drawing board because this will not pass the trademark clearance search. 🙅🏽♀️
So how do you get around this?
Don’t just search for your exact trademark.
You’ve gotta search for as many variations as possible on your mark.
Before hopping on the USPTO website, take 10 or 15 minutes to hash out a bunch of different variations on spelling, punctuation, and spacing based on the mark you are completing your clearance on.
Think about it this way — our biz name, Coaches & Co., can be spelled and stylized so many different ways.
Coaches + Co.
Coaches & Co.
Coaches and Co.
Coaches and Company
Coachez + Co (OK, this one is a little weird, but you get the point!)
You WILL miss something if you don’t search for a bunch of different variations on your mark.
This is why you’ve gotta put in the time and effort to find out if there are any red flags when it comes to existing trademarks.
Once you’ve cleared your mark on USPTO’s database, you are ready to move on to step 2.
Step 2: Do a Thorough Google Search
This might seem a little obvious, but the next step in the process is heading over to good ol’ Google.
WARNING: When you search your trademark on its own, you will probably get TONS of results.
❌ Don’t panic. ❌
Just go ahead and start combing through the first 10 pages of results to see if anything related to your specific mark comes up.
If you’re thinking, “The first 10 PAGES??!! Who even checks past the first few suggested links anyway?”
*YOU* do when you’re completing your trademark clearance search, friend.
Don’t skip out on this step. Be thorough and you’ll thank yourself down the road!
The next thing you want to do is search your trademark and a word related to your industry in quotations.
Like this: Coaches & Co. “Contracts”
That way, the Google search engine will find results that include your trademark AND mention that word related to the service you provide.
Again, search through the first 10 pages to see if there are any conflicts.
Fingers crossed you’re in the clear, but if not, it’s back to the drawing board, sis.
In the clear?
Step 3: Scan Social Media
If your USPTO and Google searches have come back without any conflicts, it’s time to take your investigation to social media.
You’ve got to scour Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, and even Etsy.
Make sure that there aren’t any products or services being sold online under the same or similar trademark as yours.
The other realm of social media you absolutely MUST search is #hashtags.
Hashtags are a great indicator if someone else is already using the same or similar mark to yours.
If you search hashtags and you find only a handful of random pictures from personal or small accounts, don’t sweat it.
But if you’ve stumbled across a hashtag booming with avid users, you might have a problem on your hands.
But What if There’s a Conflict?
Yes, a trademark clearance search can be a DIY operation — but it’s possible that throughout your search you’ll keep bumping up against other marks that are a little too similar to yours.
Maybe you’re not sure if they’re too similar.
Maybe you just wanna be extra careful.
Whatever the case may be, this is the perfect time to invest in some legal support.
And hey, this doesn’t mean you failed at completing your own search. It means that your search was sooooo thorough that you discovered potential conflicts.
Be proud of yourself for catching them in advance! You’re a pro! 💃🏽
Go ahead and schedule a meeting with a lawyer to have them conduct their own trademark clearance search and legal analysis of the situation.
Once they’ve given you the greenlight…
You are in the clear.
YOU DID IT, GIRL. ✨
You are ready to start investing in your brand under this trademark.
Completing this search allows you to start investing in marketing, advertising, driving traffic to your website, announcing your programs or products, growing an online community, and securing registration of your trademark with the USPTO.
As always, we’ve got your back. 💛
Check out our ready-to-use, lawyer-approved, plug-and-play legal templates! So you can stay profitable AND protected ✨
Not sure where to begin? We’ve got you. Jump into our FREE 20-Minute Contract Crash Course to get the legal lowdown on everything contracts! (Heads up: It’ll forever transform the way you view your client relationships!)
*The information presented in this blog post is for educational & informational purposes only. This should not be a substitute for customized legal advice from a licensed professional in a private setting. If you need legal advice, please consult with an attorney. This is not a law firm.
Good luck! ✨