Trademark e Search–Techniques and Strategies

The following section is taken from the USPTO’s Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) Online Help and gives advice to potential trademark applicants on how to do a basic trademark electronic search of registered trademarks and pending applications. (Before TESS, trademark searching had to be done at depository libraries, using CDs or paid subscription services!)  It outlines a very thorough strategy for searching for conflicting trademarks in the USPTO database TESS. TESS does not include common law marks or state trademarks but does include federal DEAD trademarks that may or may not be abandoned.

USPTO Likelihood of Confusion Search Principles

Following are the likelihood of confusion search principles used by the USPTO that you may want to consider prior to submitting a trademark application. You must decide which of these search principles may be appropriate for your trademark search. Even if you diligently follow all these search principles, that does not necessarily guarantee that you will find all potential citations under Section 2(d) of the Trademark Act.

  1.     Conduct a Thorough Search [for similar marks using the Thirteen Dupont Factors].
  2.     Search All Forms of all the Distinctive Elements of the Mark.
  3.     Search Each Distinctive Element Alone.
  4.     Search Acronyms AND What They Stand For.
  5.     Search All the Legal Word Equivalents of Terms.
  6.     Search Component Parts of Individual Terms When Necessary.
  7.     Searches for Marks Consisting of Two or More Separate Terms Should be Conducted so that the Two Terms Would be Retrieved Whether They Run Together or are Separate.
  8.     Search Pictorial Equivalents for Distinctive Terms and Vice Versa When Appropriate.
  9.     Search all Phonetic Equivalents
  10.     Search all English Equivalents

Many Facts and Factors

There are many facts and factors to consider when deciding if one trademark is too similar to another trademark with appearance, sound connotation and commercial impression often being the most important factors.

The Thirteen DuPont Factors

 In re E.I. DuPont DeNemours & Co., 476 F.2d 1357, 1361 (CCPA 1973), established a test that the USPTO trademark examiners & TTAB (Trademark Trial and Appeal Board) use for determining whether there is a likelihood of confusion between two trademarks:

In testing for likelihood of confusion . . . the following, when of record, must be considered:

(1) The similarity or dissimilarity of the marks in their entireties as to appearance, sound connotation and commercial impression.

(2) The similarity or dissimilarity and nature of the goods or services as described in an application or registration or in connection with which a prior mark is in use.

(3) The similarity or dissimilarity of established, likely-to-continue trade channels.

(4) The conditions under which and buyers to whom sales are made, i.e. `impulse' vs. careful, sophisticated purchasing.

(5) The fame of the prior mark (sales, advertising, length of use).

(6) The number and nature of similar marks in use on similar goods.

(7) The nature and extent of any actual confusion.

(8) The length of time during and conditions under which there has been concurrent use without evidence of actual confusion.

(9) The variety of goods on which a mark is or is not used (house mark, `family' mark, product mark).

(10) The market interface between applicant and the owner of a prior mark. . . .

(11) The extent to which applicant has a right to exclude others from use of its mark on its goods.

(12) The extent of potential confusion, i.e., whether de minimis or substantial.

(13) Any other established fact probative of the effect of use.



General Rules for Likelihood of Confusion

Please note that every trademark application is decided on its own merits and general rules may or may not apply! These General Rules are extracted from USPTO trademark refusals. The facts pertinent to the particular refusals have been deleted.

Similar in Appearance

Marks may be confusingly similar in appearance where there are similar terms or phrases or similar parts of terms or phrases appearing in both applicant’s and registrant’s mark.  See Crocker Nat’l Bank v. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, 228 USPQ 689 (TTAB 1986), aff’d sub nom. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce v. Wells Fargo Bank, Nat’l Ass’n, 811 F.2d 1490, 1 USPQ2d 1813 (Fed. Cir. 1987) (COMMCASH and COMMUNICASH); In re Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., 228 USPQ 949 (TTAB 1986) (21 CLUB and “21” CLUB (stylized)); In re Corning Glass Works, 229 USPQ 65 (TTAB 1985) (CONFIRM and CONFIRMCELLS); In re Collegian Sportswear Inc., 224 USPQ 174 (TTAB 1984) (COLLEGIAN OF CALIFORNIA and COLLEGIENNE); In re Pellerin Milnor Corp., 221 USPQ 558 (TTAB 1983) (MILTRON and MILLTRONICS); In re BASF A.G., 189 USPQ 424 (TTAB 1975) (LUTEXAL and LUTEX); TMEP §1207.01(b)(ii)-(iii).

Goods and Services Need Not Be Identical or Directly Competitive

The goods and services of the parties need not be identical or directly competitive to find a likelihood of confusion.  See Safety-Kleen Corp. v. Dresser Indus., Inc., 518 F.2d 1399, 1404, 186 USPQ 476, 480 (C.C.P.A. 1975); TMEP §1207.01(a)(i).  Rather, they need only be related in some manner, or the conditions surrounding their marketing are such that they would be encountered by the same purchasers under circumstances that would give rise to the mistaken belief that the goods and/or services come from a common source.  In re Total Quality Group, Inc., 51 USPQ2d 1474, 1476 (TTAB 1999); TMEP §1207.01(a)(i); see, e.g., On-line Careline Inc. v. Am. Online Inc., 229 F.3d 1080, 1086-87, 56 USPQ2d 1471, 1475-76 (Fed. Cir. 2000); In re Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe, Inc., 748 F.2d 1565, 1566-68, 223 USPQ 1289, 1290 (Fed. Cir. 1984).

 First Word, Prefix or Syllable May Be More Important

Consumers are generally more inclined to focus on the first word, prefix or syllable in any trademark or service mark.  See Palm Bay Imps., Inc. v. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Maison Fondee En 1772, 396 F. 3d 1369, 1372, 73 USPQ2d 1689, 1692 (Fed. Cir. 2005); see also Mattel Inc. v. Funline Merch. Co., 81 USPQ2d 1372, 1374-75 (TTAB 2006); Presto Prods., Inc. v. Nice-Pak Prods., Inc., 9 USPQ2d 1895, 1897 (TTAB 1988) (“it is often the first part of a mark which is most likely to be impressed upon the mind of a purchaser and remembered” when making purchasing decisions).


Foreign Equivalents of English Words May Cause Marks to Be Similar

Under the doctrine of foreign equivalents, a mark in a foreign language and a mark that is its English equivalent may be held to be confusingly similar.  TMEP §1207.01(b)(vi); see, e.g., In re Thomas, 79 USPQ2d 1021, 1025 (TTAB 2006); In re Hub Distrib., Inc., 218 USPQ 284 (TTAB 1983).  Therefore, marks comprised of foreign words are translated into English to determine similarity in meaning and connotation with English word marks.  See Palm Bay Imps., Inc. v. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Maison Fondee en 1772, 396 F.3d 1369, 1377, 73 USPQ2d 1689, 1696 (Fed. Cir. 2005).  Equivalence in meaning and connotation can be sufficient to find such marks confusingly similar.  See In re Thomas, 79 USPQ2d at 1025.


The doctrine is applicable when it is likely that an ordinary American purchaser would “stop and translate” the foreign term into its English equivalent.  Palm Bay, 396 F.3d at 1377, 73 USPQ2d at 1696; TMEP §1207.01(b)(vi)(A).  The ordinary American purchaser refers to “all American purchasers, including those proficient in a non-English language who would ordinarily be expected to translate words into English.”  In re Spirits Int’l, N.V., 563 F.3d 1347, 1352, 90 USPQ2d 1489, 1492 (Fed. Cir. 2009); see In re Thomas, 79 USPQ2d at 1024 (citing J. Thomas McCarthy, McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition §23:26 (4th ed. 2006), which states “[t]he test is whether, to those American buyers familiar with the foreign language, the word would denote its English equivalent.”).


Generally, the doctrine is applied when the English translation is a literal and exact translation of the foreign wording.  See In re Thomas, 79 USPQ2d at 1021 (holding MARCHE NOIR for jewelry likely to be confused with the cited mark BLACK MARKET MINERALS for retail jewelry and mineral store services where evidence showed that MARCHE NOIR is the exact French equivalent of the English idiom “Black Market,” and the addition of MINERALS did not serve to distinguish the marks); In re Ithaca Indus., Inc., 230 USPQ 702 (TTAB 1986) (holding applicant’s mark LUPO for men’s and boys’ underwear likely to be confused with the cited registration for WOLF and design for various clothing items, where LUPO is the Italian equivalent of the English word “wolf”); In re Hub Distrib., Inc., 218 USPQ at 284 (holding the Spanish wording EL SOL for clothing likely to be confused with its English language equivalent SUN for footwear where it was determined that EL SOL was the “direct foreign language equivalent” of the term SUN).


Common, modern languages include Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Serbian and Yiddish.  See, e.g., Weiss Noodle Co. v. Golden Cracknel & Specialty Co., 290 F.2d 845, 129 USPQ 411 (C.C.P.A. 1961) (Hungarian); In re Joint-Stock Co. “Baik,” 80 USPQ2d 1305 (TTAB 2006) (Russian); In re Perez, 21 USPQ2d 1075 (TTAB 1991) (Spanish); In re Oriental Daily News, Ltd., 230 USPQ 637 (TTAB 1986) (Chinese); In re Ithaca Indus., Inc., 230 USPQ 702 (TTAB 1986) (Italian); In re Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co., 223 USPQ 45 (TTAB 1983) (German); In re Westbrae Natural Foods, Inc., 211 USPQ 642 (TTAB 1981) (Japanese); In re Optica Int’l, 196 USPQ 775 (TTAB 1977) (French); In re Bagel Nosh, Inc., 193 USPQ 316 (TTAB 1976) (Yiddish); In re Hag Aktiengesellschaft, 155 USPQ 598 (TTAB 1967) (Serbian); In re New Yorker Cheese Co., 130 USPQ 120 (TTAB 1961) (Polish).


Font Changes Do NOT Avoid a Likelihood of Confusion

A mark in typed or standard characters may be displayed in any lettering style; the rights reside in the wording or other literal element itself and not in any particular display.  TMEP §1207.01(c)(iii); see 37 C.F.R. §2.52(a).  Thus, a mark presented in stylized characters or otherwise in special form generally will not avoid likelihood of confusion with a mark in typed or standard characters because the marks could be presented in the same manner of display.  See, e.g., In re Melville Corp., 18 USPQ2d 1386, 1387-88 (TTAB 1991); In re Pollio Dairy Prods. Corp., 8 USPQ2d 2012, 2015 (TTAB 1988).


When a mark consists of a word portion and a design portion, the word portion is more likely to be impressed upon a purchaser’s memory and to be used in calling for the goods and/or services.  Therefore, the word portion is normally accorded greater weight in determining likelihood of confusion.  In re Dakin’s Miniatures, Inc., 59 USPQ2d 1593, 1596 (TTAB 1999); In re Appetito Provisions Co., 3 USPQ2d 1553, 1554 (TTAB 1987); Amoco Oil Co. v. Amerco, Inc., 192 USPQ 729, 735 (TTAB 1976); TMEP §1207.01(c)(ii).


Marks are Compared in Their Entireties

Although a disclaimed portion of a mark certainly cannot be ignored, and the marks must be compared in their entireties, one feature of a mark may be more significant in creating a commercial impression.  Disclaimed matter is typically less significant or less dominant when comparing marks.  See In re Dixie Rests., Inc., 105 F.3d 1405, 1407, 41 USPQ2d 1531, 1533-34 (Fed. Cir. 1997); In re Nat’l Data Corp., 753 F.2d 1056, 1060, 224 USPQ 749, 752 (Fed. Cir. 1985); TMEP §1207.01(b)(viii), (c)(ii).  


Overall Impression is More Important Than A Side-by-Side Comparison

The question is not whether people will confuse the marks, but whether the marks will confuse people into believing that the goods and/or services they identify come from the same source.  In re West Point-Pepperell, Inc., 468 F.2d 200, 201, 175 USPQ 558, 558-59 (C.C.P.A. 1972); TMEP §1207.01(b).  For that reason, the test of likelihood of confusion is not whether the marks can be distinguished when subjected to a side-by-side comparison.  The question is whether the marks create the same overall impression.  See Recot, Inc. v. M.C. Becton, 214 F.3d 1322, 1329-30, 54 USPQ2d 1894, 1899 (Fed. Cir. 2000); Visual Info. Inst., Inc. v. Vicon Indus. Inc., 209 USPQ 179, 189 (TTAB 1980).  The focus is on the recollection of the average purchaser who normally retains a general rather than specific impression of trademarks.  Chemetron Corp. v. Morris Coupling & Clamp Co., 203 USPQ 537, 540-41 (TTAB 1979); Sealed Air Corp. v. Scott Paper Co., 190 USPQ 106, 108 (TTAB 1975); TMEP §1207.01(b).

What If Someone Else Has Recently Applied for or Registered a Trademark  But You Are the Prior User (first user)?

The general rule of thumb is that a prior user has superior rights in trademark law but you can’t just call up the USPTO and tell them to let yours register and cancel theirs. Sitting on your rights for a long period of time may mean that you no longer have rights that can be enforced. There are lots of other facts that are important also.

Defending your superior rights in a trademark application or registration can be accomplished through a trademark opposition or trademark cancellation proceeding in which the USPTO Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) hears cases involving trademark applications and registrations. (The TTAB cannot decide issues of infringement, only registerability.)

Being the first to file is the superior position to be in so investing in an application for a trademark early in its use or even before its first use can avoid a lot of problems later. If you are the second to file but the first to file made serious mistakes in the their application (70% of trademark applications are refused at least once!), you may just have to wait for the first application to go abandoned (about 40-50% of trademark applications never register). Making sure that your later filed application will hold up to not just the trademark application examination process but also stand up to the opposition process or cancellation process is essential to claiming your superior rights. Knowing how to win the opposition when you fill out the application makes good sense (AIM HIGHER!)


Five Step Verification by Not Just Patents® Legal Services

Can Your Trademark Stand Up?

Stand-Up Trademark: A registration that protects legal rights and sets the ground work for a strong trademark registration protects investments in a product or service that can last through a long product life.

Fall-Down Trademark: A registration that only meets minimum requirements for filing (all the right blanks filled in and no direct search hits) may not ever issue or may not protect legal rights. The abandonment rate of trademark applications at the USPTO (trademarks that did not issue) is very high, there were 139,832 abandoned trademarks in 2012 (about 37%). Many applications do not meet federal trademark law because they have a likelihood of confusion with other registered or pending marks, are merely descriptive or generic, have specimens that do not show the trademark functioning as a trademark, have inadequate specimens of use and many other reasons. Many abandonments are from intent-to-use applications where the Alleged Amendment of Use (AAU) or the Statement of Use (SOU) were never filed with the USPTO or were not accepted (problems with specimens).   Getting a trademark registration does not have to be a gambling process.

Verify Strength to Stand Up: To verify a potential trademark is strong, available to use, and ready to register, Not Just Patents® Legal Services does  much more than a direct hit federal search. To maximize the commercial strength and minimize the weaknesses of a trademark, Not Just Patents recommends our service and starts the road to a Stand-Up Trademark with our Five-Step Verification process:

1. Verify Inherent Strength

Does the mark consist of inherently distinctive element(s) that can be claimed for exclusive use?

2. Verify Right to Use

Does the mark have a likelihood of confusion with prior marks (registered or unregistered)?

3. Verify Right to Register

Does the mark meet the USPTO rules of registration? (no grounds for refusal)

4. Verify Specimen

Is the mark used as a trademark or service mark in the specimen?

5. Verify Goods and Services ID

Is the goods/services identification definite and accurate? Is the goods/service ID as broad as it should be under the circumstances or will a narrower description distinguish it better or avoid a likelihood of confusion?

How Can I Verify That I Have A Strong Trademark?

There are many different definitions for verifying a trademark. Some believe that it involves a mechanical quick search of USPTO records to look for direct hits. Some would expand the mechanical USPTO search to look for some ‘similar’ trademarks. Some would expand the search to include common law trademarks. If a trademark owner is just trying to spend little and get little, these may be enough to satisfy the “get little” goal. If a trademark owner is trying to maximize the value of their investment and minimize the weaknesses, A Strong Trademark Registration may be a better choice.

 “A strong trademark is one that is rarely used by parties other than the owner of the trademark, while a weak trademark is one that is often used by other parties. The more distinctive a trademark, the greater its strength.” Exxon Corporation v. Texas Motor Exchange of Houston, 628 F.2d 500, 504 (5th Cir.1980).

*The Most Efficient Commercial Tool Ever Devised: The International Trademark Association (INTA) in their Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Care About Trademarks calls a Trademark the Most Efficient Commercial Tool Ever Devised. A weak trademark is made up of words or symbols that others have a right to use so any one user has no exclusive rights to use.

*The USPTO helps to enforce  prior strong trademarks during the application of later-filed marks. A trademark examiner will refuse registration for later applying marks that have a likelihood of confusion with a prior registered mark or a prior pending trademark. A registered mark on the Principal Register has a presumption of distinctiveness or inherent distinctiveness. Even a mark on the Supplemental Register can be used to refuse a later-filed mark on the Principal Register. Being first to register has its privileges!

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Trademark e

Call 1-651-500-7590 or email for Responses to Office Actions; File or Defend an Opposition or Cancellation; Trademark Searches and Applications; Send or Respond to Cease and Desist Letters.

For more information from Not Just Patents, see our other sites:      

Evolved Means, Method or Format-Is your trademark registration obsolete?

Trademark e Search    Strong Trademark     Enforcing Trade Names

Common Law Trademarks  Trademark Goodwill   Abandoned Trademarks

Chart of Patent vs. Trade Secret

Patent or Trademark Assignments

Trademark Disclaimers   Trademark Dilution     TSDR Status Descriptors

Oppose or Cancel? Examples of Disclaimers  Business Cease and Desist

Patent, Trademark & Copyright Inventory Forms

USPTO Search Method for Likelihood of Confusion

Verify a Trademark  Be First To File    How to Trademark Search

Are You a Content Provider-How to Pick an ID  Specimens: webpages

How to Keep A Trade Secret

Decrease Your Vulnerability to Cancellation

Using Slogans (Taglines), Model Numbers as Trademarks

Which format? When Should I  Use Standard Characters?

Opposition Pleadings    UDRP Elements    

Oppositions-The Underdog    Misc Changes to TTAB Rules 2017

How To Answer A Trademark Cease and Desist Letter

Trademark Integrity: Are your IP Assets Vulnerable?

Trademark Refusals    Does not Function as a Mark Refusals

Insurance Extension  Advantages of ®

How to Respond to Office Actions  Final Refusal

What is a Compact Patent Prosecution?

Acceptable Specimen       Supplemental Register   $224 Statement of Use

How To Show Acquired Distinctiveness Under 2(f)

Trademark-Request for Reconsideration

Why Not Just Patents? Functional Trademarks   How to Trademark     

What Does ‘Use in Commerce’ Mean?    

Grounds for Opposition & Cancellation     Cease and Desist Letter

Trademark Incontestability  TTAB Manual (TBMP)

Valid/Invalid Use of Trademarks     Trademark Searching

TTAB/TBMP Discovery Conferences & Stipulations

TBMP 113 TTAB Document Service  TBMP 309 Standing

Examples and General Rules for Likelihood of Confusion

Examples of Refusals for Likelihood of Confusion   DuPont Factors

What are Dead or Abandoned Trademarks?

 Can I Use An Abandoned Trademark?

Color as Trade Dress  3D Marks as Trade Dress  

Can I Abandon a Trademark During An Opposition?

Differences between TEAS, TEAS RF and TEAS plus  

Extension of Time to Oppose?

Ornamental Refusal  Standard TTAB Protective Order

SCAM Letters Surname Refusal

What Does Published for Opposition Mean?

What to Discuss in the Discovery Conference

Descriptive Trademarks  

Likelihood of Confusion 2d  TMOG Trademark Tuesday

Acquired Distinctiveness  2(f) or 2(f) in part

Merely Descriptive Trademarks  

Merely Descriptive Refusals

ID of Goods and Services see also Headings (list) of International Trademark Classes

Register a Trademark-Step by Step  

Protect Business Goodwill Extension of Time to Oppose

Geographically Descriptive or Deceptive

Change of Address with the TTAB using ESTTA

Likelihood of confusion-Circuit Court tests

Pseudo Marks    How to Reply to Cease and Desist Letter

Not Just Patents Often Represents the Underdog

 Overcome Merely Descriptive Refusal   Overcome Likelihood Confusion

Protecting Trademark Rights (Common Law)

Steps in a Trademark Opposition Process   

Section 2(d) Refusals

Zombie Trademark  

What is the Difference between Principal & Supplemental Register?

Typical Brand Name Refusals  What is a Family of Marks? What If Someone Files An Opposition Against My Trademark?

How to Respond Office Actions  

DIY Overcoming Descriptive Refusals

Trademark Steps Trademark Registration Answers TESS  

Trademark Searching Using TESS  Trademark Search Tips

Trademark Clearance Search   DIY Trademark Strategies

Published for Opposition     What is Discoverable in a TTAB Proceeding?

Counterclaims and Affirmative Defenses

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