Recently, I decided to create a YouTube series in which I would perform and review a LegalZoom trademark search. You can view Part 1 of that series here. I wanted to demonstrate what the search process looks like, the expenses involved, and what you ultimately get for your money. Now that I have completed my search, I’d like to share my experience with you.
As a trademark attorney, of course I believe that my profession provides more value than a do-it-yourself service such as LegalZoom or Trademarkia. I understand that new businesses want (and need) to save money. The LegalZoom trademark search and other trademark services may seem like appealing alternatives to hiring an attorney. But while LegalZoom may be cheaper in some cases, it can also be a complete waste of money in others. And it never provides the value that you get from working with a real attorney. Here are my three main takeaways from my LegalZoom trademark search:
1. LegalZoom Doesn’t Tell You If Your Mark Is Ineligible for Federal Registration!
Trademark searches are primarily used to determine if your desired mark is confusingly similar to an existing trademark. A federal trademark search (which is the most common) looks to see whether a trademark application would be denied by the Trademark Office on this basis. However, there are a number of other reasons that a trademark application can be denied that the LegalZoom trademark search doesn’t screen for. If one of these conditions applies, then there is no point in doing a search and spending your money in the first place!
For example, your trademark application can be rejected because it is descriptive or even generic. Your mark can be rejected if it is considered to be primarily geographic. Or if it primarily consists of a surname. There are many of these rules that the Trademark Office uses as a basis for rejecting your trademark application. A trademark attorney can spot many of these instantly, or with some quick research. LegalZoom, on the other hand, is only looking for one reason that your mark might get rejected. And it won’t stop you from paying for a useless search if one of these other conditions applies.
In my YouTube series, I perform a LegalZoom trademark search for the mark I REGISTER TRADEMARKS (my domain name). Well, I can tell you that this mark would likely face rejection from the Trademark Office on the basis that it is generic or descriptive of the services I provide. LegalZoom was happy to collect my $200 search fee and perform the search without giving me a heads up, though. If your goal is to save money by using LegalZoom, you might keep this in mind. A trademark attorney can save you money by not having you pay for a search where it is clear up front that your mark is not going be registerable.
2. Attorneys Provide Trademark Search Opinions, Not Just Trademark Search Results!
When you think about performing a trademark search, it is important to distinguish between trademark search opinions, and trademark search results. An opinion tells you whether it is likely that another mark will prevent you from being able to register your trademark. Trademark search results are the raw data or “hits” that you get from performing a search. As a consumer, what is ultimately more valuable to you? You want an opinion, which is based on a review of those search results. You could not care less about what the raw data looks like.
Well, with the LegalZoom trademark search, all you get is the raw data. Remember, they are not a law firm, and don’t provide legal opinions. In my case, the search for I REGISTER TRADEMARKS yielded 467 pages of search results. Now to be fair, that’s only about 40% of the novel “War and Peace.” But if the goal of using LegalZoom is to save money, how much (in addition to the search cost) am I costing my business in time if I go through all of those search results? And while LegalZoom does have some decent information on what constitutes a similar mark, most people performing this search do not have any experience. That means that it will take them much longer to go through, and they aren’t choosing conflicts based on any type of experience with doing so.
The LegalZoom trademark search is not even cheap enough to justify the extra work on your end. They charge $200 to perform a federal and state trademark search and give you the results. While I do not provide a state trademark search (for reasons discussed later), I charge $300 to perform a federal trademark search. For that fee, I will perform the search, go through the search results for you, and provide you with a written opinion stating whether any of the marks I found might prevent registration of your chosen trademark. Is it really worth going through hundreds or thousands of pages of search results, which you have to correctly interpret yourself, in order to save that $100?
3. LegalZoom Upsells You On Searches and Services You Don’t Need!
For most people looking to do a trademark search, their ultimate goal is obtaining a trademark registration with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. That is why my trademark search focuses on the federal Trademark Office database. However, it’s always a good idea to first perform a knockout search using Google, the TESS system, and social media to see if your trademark is similar to anything already being used in commerce. LegalZoom wants to charge you for doing some of the most basic and asinine trademark searches. Many are either a waste of time or money to the point that it actually becomes more expensive than many of the attorneys that you might talk to (including myself).
I first noticed the different types of LegalZoom trademark searches when I went to checkout, and the basic $199 package I had started out with had suddenly become $299. Well that was a surprise! They automatically upgrade you to their package that includes a “common law search.” You have to remove this option to get back to the basic package, which includes a federal and state search for $199.
LegalZoom Trademark Search for State Registrations
I want to briefly discuss the state trademark registration search that comes with the basic package, and why I don’t do them. First, I only encourage my clients to register their trademarks with the Trademark Office. Federal registration gives you important trademark rights, such as the exclusive nationwide rights to your mark. I focus on registration at the federal level for this reason. Another important reason for this is that state trademark registration is a very flawed process.
The state trademark registration process varies from state to state. Some states do not even review applications. They just approve them, so there is no way to tell if a particular registration is even valid. Some state databases are updated so infrequently, that you might not be able to see a conflicting registration if it was issued within the last six months. Overall, many of these registrations are subject to challenge, and therefore aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. State registrations are so frequently invalid that it becomes impossible to advise a client based on a search of them. So the search isn’t worth much either. The LegalZoom trademark search automatically includes these results, but that isn’t a reason to prefer their services.
LegalZoom Trademark Search for Common Law Marks
Many of the services provided under their “common law search” are wholly unnecessary. Others are simply just not worth the extra $100. Here are the common law searches that LegalZoom provides:
- Business Name Search – This is just a search of businesses registered in each of the states. However, businesses frequently don’t use their registered names as trademarks, so this doesn’t really tell you anything. Actually, what is telling is that they explicitly state that it doesn’t include entities registered in Delaware. That is the state in which the most companies are registere. How important or valuable is this search if it doesn’t include the state with the most business entities?
- Common Law Marks Search – If you saw my YouTube review, you probably heard me try to stifle a laugh when I saw this. What is the secret to the common law marks search? It’s Google. They are just using Google to search the web for this. Why not just do that part yourself?
- Domain Name Search – Another laughable search. For this, they take your chosen mark and throw a .com, .net, .org, .us, .name, .info, .edu, and .biz on the end and see what webpages come up. Owning a domain does not necessarily mean you are using it as a trademark. And again, why would you pay someone an extra $100 for this?
- Yellow Pages Search – This actually doesn’t use the Yellow Pages, but SuperPages.com. It’s another one that you can easily do yourself.
So LegalZoom is really trying to sell you a lot of searches you don’t need that sound fine on paper. And if you’re overwhelmed by the thousands of pages of search results this may generate, they have one final plan to upsell you. Yes, for as little as $23.99/month (which becomes as little as $31.25/month once you click the link) you can speak to… wait for it… an attorney that can help you interpret your search results! At that point you’ve already spent more than you would have hiring an attorney in the first place. Ouch.
Overall, I would say that my experience really demonstrated the pitfalls of the LegalZoom trademark search service. They appear to be a safe, cheap alternative to hiring a trademark attorney. But when you realize that they may have you paying to search for a generic (and therefore non-protectable) mark, or to have someone search Google for you, or to hire an attorney to consult with you about your incomprehensible search results… Well, that’s probably when you’ll regret not going to a trademark attorney in the first place.
Are You or a Loved One Thinking About Hiring LegalZoom for Your Trademark Search?
Before you start filling out your online forms, take a few minutes to talk to me, free of charge. Call me at (314) 479-3668, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or complete the contact form found on this page to schedule your free initial consultation today. I look forward to speaking with you.