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Say if I design a logo, there is the chance that it may be to similar to that of a trademarked logo already out there. Are there any services that help with this?

This could be done through research, but this seems a bit too intensive, so I want to know if there is anything better.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

It is an intensive process, takes a while, and is expensive. There are companies that do little else, and will charge you handsomely. The USPTO (Patents and Trademark office) has search facilities on its website that will allow you do search for yourself without a fee but considerable cost in time. I assume that similar facilities exist for other economic regions, but don't have experience with them.

The bottom line is that, like patent search, it takes care and time.

It's not all gloomy, though. The essence of trademark violation is that someone might confuse your brand with some already-registered competitor. In most cases, that means that you can narrow your search to companies in roughly the same line of business and (provided you don't do something egregious like using a nice curvy swoosh for your new line of athletic footwear) not have a problem.

For SMBs (small and medium businesses) with only a local presence, this is seldom much of an issue, but if you're a web startup or have national or international ambitions, it is highly recommended that you invest the time and money up front to avoid marketing embarrassment and/or legal expense later.

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Would you say that the service is widely used and how much would you say is a fair price to charge for this service? – Sycren Jul 1 '11 at 19:02
Fees vary hugely from company to company, regionally and with the scope of search (national, international -- which countries), so it's impossible to say. (But if someone says they can do it for $50 or $100, they probably don't know what they're doing.) Check in your city and online, and compare. – Alan Gilbertson Jul 1 '11 at 19:28
And here's the corresponding EU–level trademark & design office. Unfortunately the national trademark search has access to only 14/27 of national IP offices. The site can also search the Community trade marks, which are like "(con)federal" trademarks. – koiyu Jul 2 '11 at 9:04

Drawing on a point that Alan Gilbertson made, you need to ascertain whether you NEED to do this. A lot of people will pay the fees and do the search without consideration because they are afraid of legal consequences. The truth is, as Alan wrote, is there a confusion factor?

For example, (hypothetical) I design a logo for a Law firm. They are called Mullins Law Firm. If I do a logo that is a large M with the words Mullins Law Firm written underneath in black, is my company likely to 'steal' business from McDonalds because the brands will be confused. No. The two companies are in different fields, I don't think many people will be entering the Mullins reception to order a Big Mac. Even if they did bear a striking similarity, Mullins Law Firm caters for clients in and about a small area so are McDonalds really going to waste their time with legal proceedings? However, if in fact Mullins Law Firm was Mullins Burger Bar and the area that they served was close to a National Level, where business would almost be certainly stolen from McDonalds (even by indirect association) then there probably would be legal proceedings.

I had this discussion in my Agency just the other day, and the fact is, that unless you provide a direct competition to a business of which you have a similar logo, there isn't going to be any repercussions, or it's highly unlikely anyway...

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Good explanation, Daniel, and a great example. – Alan Gilbertson Jul 1 '11 at 22:22

If you use the 'Tin Eye' plugin for your browser then you can quickly look up an image and 'those like it'.

For instance, if you right-click on your profile picture and go to Tin-Eye you get 54 results:

Those images are mostly different to yours, but 'similar'.

Your mileage may vary, however, you will be able to do a quick but not exhaustive check of 2 billion images in a single right-click with this ever-so-neat plugin. (Beat that you expensive humans!) It will also give you links to where the same/similar image is used.

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If I'm honest, tineye didn't work for the majority of what I tested, and those that did work were exact matches. I'm not sure this is a good solution for checking 'similar' logos. – Dan Hanly Jul 4 '11 at 12:02
Depends on your luck - perhaps it only scores a direct hit on truly stolen images, even if they are cropped, resized and placed in a bigger image we have had startlingly good results before now. – Theodore Jul 4 '11 at 12:12

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