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Your source for news, updates and guidance on all things trademarks and intellectual property.

How to Search TESS like a Trademark Examiner

Alt Legal Team | April 13, 2020
4 min read

The USPTO offers a search tool called “Trademark Electronic Search System” (TESS) for searching its entire database of trademark filings. While the interface and search options may prove challenging, TESS’s powerful and free search capabilities make it a worthwhile tool for any trademark practitioner.

Mastering TESS will provide you with unparalleled trademark searches that you can use to identify potential risks that may prevent registration of your trademark, to find evidence with which to argue against refusals, and to investigate and enforce potential trademark infringements.

There are three basic methods for searching TESS: searching using Basic Word Mark Search is simple and straightforward, and the Structured search provides a good way of becoming familiar with the different options and types of data stored, but the Free Form search option offers the most power and flexibility.

TESS runs on an adapted Boolean search system. This means that it’s based on strings of text (using quotation marks for strings including spaces) linked by the logical operators and, or, and not. The USPTO has also set up a system of field codes (available here) which enable you to search within particular TSDR fields such as class, attorney of record, and filing date. To use more than one field code, just separate text into different sections with parentheses and attach the field code in square brackets after the parentheses.

For example, a search for (tree and house)[bi] and live[ld] will show all live marks with the terms “tree” and “house” in the basic index (the [bi] field code, including not only the word mark but also the pseudo mark information) with the status of live (the [ld] field code). In contrast, (“tree house”)[bi] and live[ld] will search for the exact string of words “tree house,” not just the appearance of the two words somewhere in the basic index. Searches can be further refined with OR and NOT. For example, the search (tree not “treehouse”)[bi] and live[ld] will show all live marks with the term “tree” but not the term “treehouse” while the search (“tree house” or treehouse)[bi] and live[ld] will show all marks with either the terms “tree house” or “treehouse.”

Searching for phonetic equivalents

There are several methods within TESS to help you ensure that you can search for all phonetically equivalent methods of spelling your trademark. Such marks would likely present likelihood-of-confusion obstacles to registration of your mark.

For example, a question mark can represent any character. The search tree? can represent trees, treez, or treek.

An asterisk represents either an exact match or any additional characters.  The search tree* can result in treehouse, treefort, or tree.

To be more specific, you can also designate particular options for the variable characters using curly brackets { }. {A} will designate any letter, {C} any consonant, {V} any vowel including Y, and {D} any numerical digit. To find more than one such character, use a range of numbers identifying the lower and upper limit for how many characters you are specifying. For example, tr{V0:2} will result in the letters T and R, followed by between zero and two vowels: trey, trao, and tr are all possible results.

Finally, you can search for specific character matches by using quotation marks inside the brackets. For example, a search for tr{“eiy”0:2}{“sz”0:1} will show results such as treis or treez but not treeez.

Searching within specific classes

The USPTO enables you to search the trademark listing for a term within a specific class or in classes that have been determined to be related. Simply attach the class and the field code [ic] to search within that class, or the field code [cc] to search within all coordinated classes.

For example, a search for (tree AND house)[bi] and (025)[ic] and live[ld] will result only in marks within class 25 (Clothing, footwear, headwear), while (tree and house)[bi] and (025)[cc] and live[ld] will result in marks from all related classes. Find the chart that details the USPTO’s mapping of related classes here.

Searching isn’t limited to text and classes; because designs are registrable, the USPTO also has compiled a list of design codes here to enable you to search designs by type. This can help search for any logos or designs that may block the registration of your design. To search using these codes, add the field code [dc] to any design codes that match your applied-for design. For instance, the design code 05.01.02 is for “Trees or bushes with a generally rounded shape, including deciduous trees.” To search using this code, simply input it without the periods and with the field code [dc]: 050102[dc] and live[ld].

More TESS tricks

Use the field code [ds] to search records with disclaimed terms. For instance, (tree and house)[bi] and house[ds] will search all records with “house” as a disclaimed term.

The field code [gs] can be used to search the goods and services description of a mark. Searching for  “skin cream”[gs], for instance, will generate all trademarks with “skin cream” in the goods and services description.

You can search the trademark owner database with the field codes [on] (limited to owner name alone) and [ow] (owner with address, for more specificity and granularity) to find all marks held by a competitor. Searching for Apple[on] will show all marks owned by any company with Apple in its name, while searching (Apple and Cupertino)[ow] will show marks owned by Apple (in Cupertino).

Conclusion

Using the more advanced search options within TESS may seem intimidating, but it can help you learn more about potential obstacles to registration for your mark and about what the landscape of trademarks looks like. Mastering it will provide you with valuable skills to advance your trademark practice. For more information about advanced TESS searches, be sure to come to Courtney Alvarez’s talk at Alt Legal Connect, “A Thorough Examination: An Interview with a Recent Trademark Examiner.

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