Surprising state web site omissions

Over the last several work days, I’ve been working on some trademark registrations for a client. Part of the process involves looking to see if anyone has received a state-level registration for the mark the client wants to use. In many cases, I can go to the state’s web site and search the trademark registrations.

But in a surprising number of cases—31 out of the 50 states—there are no online search tools available.

This really shocked me. Put yourself in the shoes of an entrepreneur for a moment. You have an idea for a business (making widgets, say). You come up with a name that you think is clever. You (or your attorney) pulls up your state’s web page run by its secretary of state. You run a name search to see if any business is using that name. Nope, so all is good, right?

Not necessarily. There could be some XYZ, LLC that is using your potential business name as a trade or service mark. For example, if your proposed business name is “We Make Widgets, LLC” and XYZ, LLC uses “We make widgets” on its advertising, you could find yourself in the legal equivalent of the La Brea Tar Pits.

State officials try to make their web sites useful to businesses. Letting users search for the names of business entities is great, but not letting users search state-level trade or service marks is a glaring omission in the effort to make the site business-friendly.

Hopefully we will see these 31 states correct this situation in the near future.

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