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Trademarks & Trade Names

What is a Trademark Clearance Search?

Trademark rights are based on use. Before you begin using a mark to identify your product or service, you should conduct a trademark clearance search to determine whether there are any existing marks in use similar or identical to the one you wish to use. A trademark clearance search, also known as a due diligence search, is a systematic search for registered or unregistered (common law) marks that:

  • are the same or similar to the mark you wish to use;
  • are being used anywhere in the country or world (if applicable);
  • are being used for the same or similar product or service; and
  • would likely cause confusion in the mind of the customer if used.

Remember to keep careful records of your search process. Note the date you conducted the search, the words, terms and codes you used in your searches, the databases you searched and trademarks you found.

Step 1. Create Your Mark

Brainstorm a name or sketch the design of your logo. It’s a good idea to generate several names or logos in case your first choice is already in use.

Step. 2. Describe Your Product or Service

When you apply for a trademark registration you must identify the goods or services associated with your trademark. Use the resources below to identify the acceptable terms that describe your product or service. Also note the Nice international trademark class associated with each term.

For example, if you plan on opening a microbrewery and restaurant chain, your products would be "ales" and "beers," which are in Class 32. Your services would be "restaurant services," which is in Class 41.

If you plan on applying for trademark protection in multiple countries, check the appropriate national list. The TMClass Database covers many countries including Canada and the U.S.

Step 3. Identify Related Goods and Services

Use the resources in Step 2 to identify the acceptable terms and classes for related products and services. Products and services are considered to be related if they are:

  • Sold together - socks and underwear
  • Used together - ice skates and hockey sticks
  • Made with similar ingredients/materials - cheese and butter

Step 4. Design Codes (Marks with Design Elements)

If your mark incorporates a design or logo, you should search for trademarks that might be confusingly similar. Use the resources below to identify the appropriate code for each prominent design element in your mark. Carefully review the guidelines for each code.

For example, if your mark features a picture of a penguin wearing a bow tie, you would search codes 3.7.25 (penguins in costume) and 9.3.13 (ties, bow ties, silk scarves).

Step 5. Search Registered Marks and Pending Applications

Select a trademark database and search the words in your mark. Search for exact matches first, then expand your search to include words that sound like your mark (hart vs. heart), spelling variations (microteck vs. microtech), and similar meanings (turtle vs. tortoise). 

Scan the results to see if any of the trademarks are registered for the same goods or services you are selling.

You can also do a combined search using your mark and goods and services terms or international class codes.

If you mark has a design element, search the design codes your identified in Step 4.

Step 6. Check Trademark Status

For each relevant trademark you found in Step 5, check the current status and ownership information. You may be able to use trademarks that have expired and are no longer in use.

Step 7. Expand Your Search

A comprehensive trademark clearance search would include unregistered marks (common law marks) and marks registered at the provincial and state levels. See the Common Law Resources section of this guide for more information about the following resources.

  • Business name registries (NUANS, etc.)
  • U.S. state trademark databases
  • Business directories, yellow pages
  • Trade associations and publications
  • Internet domain name registries
  • Internet search engines
  • Social media sites
  • Product catalogues and e-commerce sites
  • Magazines, newspapers
  • Local shopping mall