How to search for trade marks
If you're thinking of trade marking your goods or services, you should carry out a trade mark clearance search. This will allow you to see if any mark has already been registered or applied for that is:
- similar or identical to yours
- being used in the same class (or classes) for competing products or services
A UK search will disclose both registered trade marks and pending trade marks registrations where the application process is underway.
How do you do a trade mark search?
Searching for trade marks involves checking online registers and trade mark databases to ensure that no earlier mark exist and that you won't infringe on already registered rights.
You can carry out the search yourself, if you wish, using the UK Intellectual Property Office's (IPO) free online services and databases. Use the IPO's tools to search for a trade mark.
If you don't want to carry out the searches yourself, you can:
- get help from Invest Northern Ireland's intellectual property advisers
- find a trade mark attorney to conduct a search for you
When carrying out a search, don't focus solely on registered trade marks. Someone may be using a similar unregistered mark and may be able to claim a right to it under Common Law. This is known as passing off.
When to do a trade mark search?
You should search for previously registered trade marks as soon as you decide what mark you wish to use as your trade mark. At the very least, you should carry out a clearance search before you:
- create a new product or business name or logo
- move your existing goods or services into new sectors or geographic markets
- apply to register a mark as your new trade mark
Notification of earlier rights in search reports
When you file a trade mark application with the IPO, they will notify you about earlier marks which potentially conflict with yours. This notification will not include trade marks which have expired. Expired marks can be renewed or restored up to 12 months after their renewal date.
Should you attempt to register a mark identical or similar to a recently expired mark, the owners of an earlier mark may seek to stop you from using the mark. Omitting to carry out a detailed clearance search may therefore put you at significant financial and legal risk. Read about using other people's trade marks.
What to do if a trade mark is taken?
If your search discovers a mark that conflicts with yours, you should check its status.
If the trade mark is in force and being used, you could seek permission from the existing owner to agree to your registration. If they agree, they should provide you with a letter of consent to submit to the IPO alongside your application. If they don't agree, they may choose to oppose your application.
If the mark is in force but hasn't been used in the last five years, you may be able to request the mark's removal. The owner of the earlier mark may choose to oppose this. Opposition is one of the ways it is possible to object to and challenge trade marks.
Seek professional advice if someone is opposing your trade mark registration.
Invest NI Helpline0800 181 4422
IPO Information Centre0300 300 2000