If you’ve ever gone to the USPTO’s search system, TESS, and looked to see if something is a registered trademark, you’ve probably discovered that it’s a terrible search system that is difficult to use and looks like something straight out of 1998. So I’ve put together a guide on how to search with TESS, and some hints on how to vastly improve your search results. (NOTE: I am not an attorney, nor am I an IP professional. This guide is geared toward artists who create text designs of words and phrases, so that they can avoid getting in trouble for using trademarks!)
First off, how to get there? You can do a Google search for “uspto tess,” or follow this link: http://tess2.uspto.gov/ . Note: as soon as you get to the page, the link will change to a tmsearch.uspto.gov/bin/gate.exe?f=tess&state=4810:qr3jgg.1.1 address. For some reason, that address is not a copy/pasteable link.
When you get there, you’ll see a bunch of text, and some options to click on:
Everything we’ll be doing, we can get to by clicking on the top choice, Basic Word Mark Search (New User).
Once we click on that link, we’ll be taken to the basic search form:
When most folks search TESS, they only put their search term in the Search Term field, then click “Submit Query.” I’m using the word WINTER as my example here, because someone asked about that trademark earlier today. (Yes, WINTER is a registered trademark.)
So when you submit your query, you’ll get pages of search results like these:
As you can see from highlight , there are a LOT of results. 2,268 of them. If you want to, you can scroll through them 50 at a time by using the “Next List” button (highlight ). But let’s talk about what’s bloating up this list:
Highlight  is showing something Dead in the “Live/Dead” column. That means a mark has been abandoned or cancelled, and is no longer active. We definitely don’t need to see those! If you go back up one image, you’ll see that right above the highlighted “Search Term” bar, there are some radio buttons: Live and Dead, Live, or Dead. You can click the button next to “Live” there, and you won’t get any of these dead results.
NOTE: “LIVE” here does not mean that this is an active, finalized registration! It only means that it isn’t dead. As soon as you submit your application to the USPTO, your application becomes LIVE. It will stay that way through the months/years that your application plugs away through the process, until your mark is either registered or is cancelled and becomes DEAD.
But that still leaves highlight  here — the column for Registration Number. That’s the column you really want to look for, because anything with a number in that column means that the registration is finalized, and can now be fully protected by its owner. As you can see from this small bit of the list, very few of those 2,268 results are actually registered.
By this point, you must be thinking, “There MUST to be a way to filter so that I only see LIVE results with registration numbers!” And my friend, you are absolutely right. There is a way!
If we go back to the Basic Word Mark Search page, you’ll see a “Free Form” button. Click that sucker!
This takes us to the Free Form menu. (You can also get to this same page from the very first TESS page — scroll back up to the first image in this post, and you’ll see “Word and/or Design Mark Search (Free Form)” as the last of the three search options.)
Here, you can build more advanced search terms, filtering for certain criteria. TESS does not make it easy to figure out how to use this advanced system! On the bottom portion of the page is a huge grid of “US Trademark Field Codes,” which are all of the different areas you can filter for. We’re only going to use a few. For our search for WINTER, I’ve put in:
winter[bi] and 025[ic] and live[ld] and `RN > "0"
(Note! This search string uses "straight quotes" quotation marks, not “curly quotes” quotation marks. TESS is really fussy and will only accept the straight up-and-down kind.)
Here’s what I’m telling TESS with this line: I’m looking for the word WINTER in the Basic Index [bi], which is the main list of the text of all trademarks. I’m filtering for International Class [ic] 025, which is the class that contains shirts and other clothing. I only want to see live marks in that Live/Dead [ld] column, and I only want to see fully complete marks that have been issued a Registration Number, so I’m telling it that there needs to be a number in the Registration Number [RN] column, and that number is greater than zero.
Yes, this is funky. And it’s using an unusual punctuation mark before the RN (it’s the grave accent, which you can type using the key just to the left of the number 1 key on most English-language keyboards), so feel free to copy/paste this line, and then changing your search term at the beginning.
So what does this search get us?
A mere 73 results, which is so much better than 2,268! And even better, every single result is LIVE, fully registered, registered in clothing class 025, and has the word WINTER in the mark. Much easier to look through to find what you need!
But what if you’re searching with more than one word? I have some text strings to copy/paste for that too.
If you know the exact mark, and just want to go straight to its page:
tired-as-a-mother[fm] and 025[ic] and live[ld] and `RN > "0"
This replaces the spaces between the words with hyphens, and changes the Basic Index [bi] search for a Full Mark [fm] search. This tells TESS that you’re looking for that exact full phrase, exactly as-is. If this mark exists, you’ll be taken straight to its individual page.
Alternately, for multiple words that are a partial search:
"i love you"[bi] and 025[ic] and live[ld] and `RN > "0"
By putting the “i love you” in quotation marks, we’re telling TESS that we only want marks with those specific words in that specific order, but they don’t have to be the only words in the mark.
This search gets us 30 highly-targeted and ultra-specific results, whereas a Basic Search for “i love you” where the results include DEAD registrations, items that are LIVE but not yet registered, and marks in other International Classes … has 561 results. So this is a far, far shorter list to look through, and the results are all relevant if you’re creating text designs for shirts!
Note on these results: near the bottom of the lists, numbers 27 and 30 don’t have anything written in the Word Mark field. What does that mean? It means that those are design marks — trademarks that are specific illustrations. Here are what those two “I LOVE YOU” marks look like:
You can see, they’re both showing elements of I/eye, love/heart, and you/u. The registrants have had to include enough words in the metadata of their registrations so that ordinary folks like you and I can find these illustrated marks with a text search.
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EDIT! Yes, there’s a little more to add.
When you click on an item in the search results page, it takes you to a page for that trademark … but that page’s link is impermanent, and isn’t a link you can copy and share with others. It’s still essentially a search result link, and if you aren’t the one who performed the search, you won’t be able to reach that page.
So when you get to that search results page as seen here, be sure to click on the “TSDR” button. That will take you to a permanent page for that mark, where you can copy that page’s link to share with others, or to keep for any future reference!