The fact that it is so easy to avoid patents and trademarks infringement lawsuits makes it quite surprising that even today, business owners get in trouble for this reason so often.
Therefore, to make sure that you don’t become one of them too, this post will explain how to check for existing patents and trademarks, along with describing the basic differences between them.
Let's get started.
Patents and trademarks are two main things that you need to check for whenever you get a new product idea for Amazon. They both offer different types of protection to business owners.
Having a patent means that you have exclusive rights to a specific design or make. For example, Apple has a patent for the iPhone. This means that no one can copy the exact design or features of an iPhone as listed in its patent.
On the other hand, if a company wants to protect their brand name or logo, they would file for a trademark. For example, Starbucks, Rolex, Sony, Canon etc. all have trademarks for their brand names and logos.
In short, if Nike wants to protect their brand name “Nike” and its famous swoosh logo, then they would get trademark registration (and they already do).
On the other hand, if Nike comes up with a unique shoe-style and wants no one else to be able to copy that design, then they would file for a patent.
Trademarks last forever, provided that you renew them once after the first 10 years, and also file a statement of use between the 5th and 6th years.
Patents are valid only up to a certain period of time (utility patents are valid for 20 years while design patents are valid for 14 years in the US).
In order to make sure that your product design is not already patented by someone else, you have to conduct a thorough online research.
Here are the 2 easiest ways to check for a patent:
If you know a company that already uses your product design, you have to first make sure that they don’t have a patent for it.
To do so, simply go to the company’s website and check if there are any design patents listed there.
For example, SquattyPotty is a company that came up with a toilet footrest device, and got a design patent for their product.
If you go on their website, you can easily find these patents listed there:
This is the simplest way to check for a patent.
Google Patents consists of a collection of patents from around the world, where you can search and read full texts of existing patents:
For example, if you search “toilet footrest” on Google Patents, a bunch of patented designs come up (including those of SquattyPotty):
The second website, USPTO.gov, is actually the official website of US Patents and Trademarks Office.
All of the registered trademarks and patents are published here with complete details. You can search for keywords on their website here and find all types of registered patents:
The difference between the two is that the former is more user-friendly, so it is easier to navigate. On the other hand, USPTO is actually the official website, so it is obviously more reliable but a bit difficult to navigate.
Conclusively, it is easier to start your search from Google Patents. If you don’t find a relevant patent there, then search the USPTO’s website to crosscheck your findings.
Another important thing while searching for patents is to choose the write search keyword. Since patents protect designs, search for that design or product type with a broad keyword. For example, don’t search for “SquattyPotty”; search for “toilet footrest” instead.
Similarly, avoid searching for long keywords that represent very specific products. So, instead of searching for “flashlight gloves for repairing and working in dark places”, just search for “flashlight glove”.
If you launch a line of camera products and name it “Nikon”, Nikon will sue you for infringing their trademark name. Therefore, if you want to choose a name or logo for your private label brand then it’s essential to check for registered trademarks first.
This process is called “clearance search”.
The best way to make sure that there are no conflicting trademarks, go to the US Trademarks website (USPTO.gov) and in the trademarks office database, check for filed and registered trademarks.
You can go here and select one of the 3 search options:
If you’re just looking for brand names, go for the first option. However, if you want to search for names and logos, select either one of the remaining options.
For example, if you search for “McDonalds”, a complete list of registered trademarks comes up like this:
In addition, you should also do Google and Amazon searches to crosscheck your findings.
Another website popular among business owners to check for trademarks is Namechk.com. They provide thorough results after checking various sites and even social media platforms for similar brand names or domain names as yours.
Checking and then filing for trademarks or patents can be a hectic and time-consuming task. This is why it is recommended that instead of bothering yourself over it, just hire a professional to do it for you.
If you just want a clearance check done for your patent or trademark, you can hire reputable freelancers (on Fiverr or Upwork etc.).
However, if you want someone to take care of the entire procedure for you - doing a clearance check, filing for the trademark or patent, handling possible objections etc. - you should hire a certified professional.
It is best to hire trademark and patent professionals or attorneys. They may seem a bit expensive at first, but they are the ones that are truly able to run the entire process smoothly for you.
Remember, it is okay to come up with a product idea and then find out that it’s already patented or trademarked during clearance search.
What’s not okay is launching your business without doing a clearance check, only to get sued later by the trademark owner. Trust us, complicated and costly lawsuits are the last thing want for your business.
Therefore, make clearance search your foremost priority whenever you come up with a new product idea. The entire process will only take a couple of hours. In return, it will not only reward you with peace of mind but also with protection from potential lawsuits.
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