USPTO Merch by Amazon Trademark Tutorial Guide
Remember the good old days when you could put up any shirt or phrase without having any idea if something in your bullets or title was trademarked and it went through anyway? I do!
We have been selling on the Merch platform since almost the beginning so we have seen a lot of changes with the way they do things, and the way that they enforce intellectual properly.
I also clearly remember the days when Amazon started taking this more seriously as the platform grew, which means that I had to learn REAL QUICK on how to use the governments website to look up trademarks and figure out how to avoid phrases that may cause Amazon issues.
You see, even though there are phrases that are CLEARLY owned by another company or entity such as “Nike” or “Just Do It”, there are far more phrases that you wouldn’t have any idea are trademarked and could end up getting you and your account in hot water.
While many of these trademarks should NOT cause you problems, the entire trademark industry (especially revolving around print on demand) is pretty broken).
For this reason, Amazon does not want to be in the middle of a fight between sellers or those who have trademarks for their intellectual property. They would rather stay on the safe side and not find themselves in a lawsuit.
That means that it is YOUR responsibility to understand Trademarks and how to look them up for your print on demand business.
So with all of that being said, let’s jump into what a trademark even is, and how we should go about doing our searches to make sure that our POD business keeps making sales for years to come.
What Is Trademark Anyway?
Before I get into this, let me just say that I am not a lawyer and if you want definitive answers, you could contact a locale trademark attorney that will help you navigate these tricky waters…
Okay, now that that is out of the way, if you are starting from square one, you may be wondering what a trademark is anyway.
The government has a great definition of this:
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others
Note the most important word there is source.
Trademarks identifies the SOURCE of a product.
When someone mentions the phrase “just do it”, you know immediately that the source of this phrase is from the company “Nike”. Pretty simple and self explanatory.
Since our entire print on demand business revolves around words, phrases and symbols, this means that we need to know how to look these up and what we are looking for.
How To Look Up A Trademark Before Uploading To Merch by Amazon
Trademarks are given out by the United States Government after an application process and a fee. This fee is generally around a few hundred dollars if you do it yourself and only goes up from there when there is an attorney involved.
Before we jump into the trademark lookup tutorial, you need to know that there are multiple different “Class” types. Each trademark that is given out is not universal and only represents the source of goods in a specific class.
For example, here are some trademark class types:
001 – Chemicals
002 – Paints
003 – Cleaning Substances
004 – Industrial Oils
005 – Pharmaceuticals
006 – Common Metals
007 – Machines
008 – Hand Tools
009 – Computers and Scientific Devices
010 – Medical Supplies
011 – Appliances
012 – Vehicles
013 – Firearms
014 – Precious Metals
015 – Musical Instruments
016 – Paper Goods
017 – Rubber Products
018 – Leather Goods
019 – Building Materials
020 – Furniture
021 – Household Utensils
022 – Ropes and Textile Products
023 – Yarns and Threads
024 – Textiles
025 – Clothing
026 – Lace and Embroidery
027 – Carpets
028 – Games and Sporting Goods
029 – Meat, Fish, Poultry
030 – Coffee, Flour, Rice
031 – Grains, Agriculture
032 – Beers and Beverages
033 – Alcoholic Beverages
034 – Tobacco Products
035 – Advertising and Business Services
036 – Insurance and Finance Services
037 – Construction and Repair Services
038 – Telecommunications Services
039 – Shipping and Travel Services
040 – Material Treatment Services
041 – Education and Entertainment Services
042 – Science and Technology Services
043 – Food Services
044 – Medical and Vet Services
045 – Legal and Security Services
You will start to notice that almost ALL of these are not relevant to the goods that we are selling on Merch by Amazon.
In fact, there are only two classes above that you should really be paying attention to for the most part and those are the 025 and 009 classes. Class 025 is for clothing and covers almost all of the goods that we sell while class 009 covers popsockets.
So now we understand what a trademark is, and that there are different classes that a trademark can be in.
Let’s get into how to actually look these up in your listing!
Step 1: USPTO
The first step in looking up a word or phrase to see if it is trademarked is to head over the USPTO website. This stands for United States Patent and Trademark Office.
You can find that website here: https://www.uspto.gov/
This website looks like it is out of the 90s and it gets even worse from there!
Step 2: Find the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS)
The second step is to go from the USPTO website over to the trademark electronic search system.
You can get to that by going to the trademarks menu on the top of the page, and clicking on the searching trademarks link below the application process header. From there, simply click on the TESS link.
Otherwise, you can just use this link here: http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/
Step 3: Run A Basic Word Mark Search
Now that you are on the TESS website, we need to actually look up some words and phrases to see if they are trademarked.
To do this, first click on the “Basic Word Mark Search” link near the top of the page.
From here, I like to keep the options as they are and not change anything. The reason I do this is just because something may be trademarked in another class, does not mean we can use it. For example, lets just say that “just do it” was NOT trademarked for the 025 class in clothing. Can we still use this mark on a shirt? Of course not! This would be a blatant intellectual property infringement because the phrase still represents the source of a product as being from Nike.
So keep all the options the same, and enter in the title of your shirt or a word/phrase from the title of your shirt that you want to put online.
Let’s just say that the phrase is “Proud Black Woman” which I recently saw became registered due to a post in one of the Facebook Groups (Thanks Rhonda!).
Enter in the phrase into the search box and click on search!
This is the result it brings back.
Right off the bat we see the word mark is: Proud Black Woman and that it is registered in class 025 (you can see this on the second line) along with a giant list of goods that it is trademarked on.
When you do a search like this and it brings up a record right away, the next thing you want to do is…
Click on the blue TSDR button in the top left hand menu.
This will open up more information about the mark.
Something else to keep in mind is that when someone applies for a trademark, it is a long process that can take many many months.
When you first apply for a trademark you will get a serial number. This number respresents your application while it goes through the process.
Only when the government reviews all of the information and grants the person or company the trademark will it get a registration number.
When a trademark has both a serial number AND a registration number, this is then a registered mark (which you can see in the status on the screenshot above).
If you see a trademark that has a serial number but no registration number, you still may NOT want to use the mark as it could be granted in the future.
For these cases, you will want to do some more digging. Look at the status of the mark, what does it say? You can also click on the documents tab at the top and read through any communication that the company or person has had with the USPTO attorneys.
Step 4: Check Owner Information
Remember at the very beginning we talked about how a trademark is supposed to represent the source of goods?
On the TSDR page of the USPTO website which we were looking at before, you can scroll down and use the drop down menu to look at the current owner information.
We can also take a look at the specimen that this owner gave the government by going to the top of the page and clicking the documents tab, and then clicking on the specimen link.
The thing is, they filed for this trademark on May 09, 2019 and was granted the trademark on November 26, 2019.
I am not sure about all of you, but when I hear the phrase “Proud Black Woman” I CERTAINLY do not think of HGC Apparel LLC as the source.
Not only that, but look at the dates on that again. The government attorneys didn’t do much due diligence. This took me about 30 seconds to find:
A listing on Spreadshirt from 2012, and look at the actual product:
A shirt that has that exact saying and phrase on it with reviews from 2018 (BEFORE HGC Apparel LLC filed)….
SO, even though it’s pretty clear that this trademark should never have gone through and been granted, it HAS been, which means we have to deal with it!
This is a phrase that should NOT be put up on a Merch by Amazon product because of the trademark research we have done.
Step 5: Check All Trademark Variations
Something you may notice when using TESS to search for trademarks is that you will see lots of variations pop up. A good example can be seen below.
We see that when we search for the phrase “eat pasta run fasta” that there are 3 trademarks that show up, some of them have commas and periods while some do not. We also see that there are 2 trademarks with both a serial number and a registration number and one without a registration number. When they have both of these numbers, it means that the trademark was granted.
Further, we see that there is actually only a single LIVE trademark.
Often times, we will see that there is a list of MANY live trademarks.
You must go through all of these and look at the goods and services on each one and verify that you are not infringing on their source of goods. If it is a live trademark and even if you may not be infringing, if it is live, think about switching up your wording as you do not want to get in trouble with Merch by Amazon. This can be a very long process to go through each mark individually, but if you want your account to remain safe, you need to do it.
Step 6: Check ALL Words/Combinations In EVERY Sentence
A Merch by Amazon listing has room for 5 content boxes which are:
- Bullet Point 1
- Bullet Point 2
This means there are 5 pieces of content on each product that you upload to Merch by Amazon that needs to be checked for Trademark.
This also means that you have to check every word, every phrase, and every sentence and possible combination when uploading your merch products.
If you do what I used to do back in the day, you will check a few phrases and that will be considered “good enough”. However, I have had my fair share of rejections and eventual take downs from the Merch platform because I did not check everything. This has probably left strikes on my account.
Make sure you check every single combination through TESS! I cannot stress this enough. I know it takes time, but it is worth it.
Speeding Up The Trademark Checking Process
The great news is that once you know how to look up a trademark and what you are looking for, you do NOT need to go through the entire process for every variation on the USPTO website if you have a Merch Informer account.
You see, we were pretty fed up with the time wasted from doing all of these checks and the problems we were running into with trademarks showing up that we did not even think to check.
We created a Chrome plugin which is part of Merch Informer called the Merch by Amazon Trademark Protection.
You can grab it here: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/merch-by-amazon-trademark/aakigomphmlnijlfonlhcobonfhfipoi?hl=en or from the upper right hand corner menu inside your Merch Informer account.
What this plugin does is check word by word, phrase by phrase, and sentence by sentence to check every possible combination of words against the USPTO database.
What’s even better is you can do this in the backend of your Merch by Amazon account BEFORE you hit that final upload button!
So, here are the instructions on how to use it:
- Install Chrome Plugin
- Click on the plugin icon and log in
- Go to Merch by Amazon and click on create product
- Fill out product details
- Before you upload, simply click on the “MI Trademark Check
The backend right before you upload a shirt will look like this:
Now, let’s enter in a phrase in any of the boxes that we talked about above!
I am going to put the phrase “eat pasta run fasta” inside one of the boxes as well as “proud black woman” and then click on the MI Trademark Check button.
When you click on one of the highlighted words, it will pop up this handy box:
You will now have the Trademarks in all of your title, brand, bullet points and descriptions, the serial number and registration number, the type of trademark, and the status. This will also check only the 025 class if you are searching the normal TM check button, or 009 class if you click on the other TM check button.
Note: This is going to show you everything that you typed out if there are trademarks in that specific class. You will notice some single word trademarks in there. While most of the time these will not cause issues, you will want to check them out and see if they are an actual brand you should avoid!
Wrapping It Up
We have finally made it to the end!
If you ever find yourself forgetting a little bit about how to use USPTO website or have friends who need a good tutorial, send them this article.
I KNOW that trademark is not something fun to learn about or something that any of us wants to pay attention to when we build up our print on demand businesses but it is one of the most important.
Your understanding of this can make or break your business.
Good luck out there!