8. Why you need to check for trademarks before you make a shirt and how to do it

How to check for t-shirt trademarks on the USPTO database. Sign up to get my 5 favorite Merch by Amazon tools & resources today at www.merchentrepreneur.com/tools. Building your Merch by Amazon business? Get free case studies and POD tactics delivered to your inbox at www.merchentrepreneur.com/signup. Join our facebook community at www.facebook.com/groups/merchentrepreneurs.

Welcome to the Merch Entrepreneur podcast. I am your host Elaine Heney and today we are going to be talking about trademarks. As a t-shirt designer trademarks is going to be a very important part of making sure that you are building a sustainable business on Amazon, and then hopefully on other t-shirt websites as you go further down the line.

First of all, I’m talking about trademarks. Basically there are certain words and certain phrases that people have trademarked. This means they own the right to use these phrases on certain things, whether they’re on t-shirts, whether they are in a certain type of business, whether they are going to be on mugs, whatever it is. If somebody has been granted the trademark to use a phrase, for example, on t-shirts, they’ve already been granted this, it means that you cannot do it because you’re going to infringe on their trademark. Every time you get a cool idea for a new t-shirt, you’re like, “Oh my god, that would just be phenomenal. I’ve got to run to my computer and whip up a couple t-shirts and throw them up on Merch by Amazon.” That’s great but first you need to check the trademark because even the strangest things that you’re like, “That could never be trademarked,” it’s a phrase that everybody use everyday. Trust me, it could be trademarked.

The process that I do is when I’m looking to see what t-shirts I’m going to make and I have a list of a couple of phrases, I’m like, “Yeah, they’d be cool on a t-shirt,” I do a quick check into the main US website for trademarks, which is called www.uspto.gov, and I type my phrase in there and I see has anyone already trademarked it. If they have literally that’s it, move on, end of phrase. Move onto the next one.

I’m actually going to check some phrases here. I’m sitting at my computer in Spain. You think it’s actually sunny but actually it’s raining outside. I’m not too sure what’s going on. It’s strange weather. Anyway, it’s all good because I’m inside at my computer. Opened on my computer is the uspto.gov website. What I’m going to do is on the top right of this website there is a button called quick links. I’m going to hover over that and then underneath that I see the word tess. I’m going to click on tess.

Now I’m in the next page and I have three options. It says, “Select a search option.” The first one is called basic word mark search, brackets, new user. I’m going to click on that, so the first option. The next page that comes up is the page where you’re going to type in your phrase and then you’re going to see if it’s trademarked. The first option is plural and singular or just singular. By default it says plural and singular so I’ll just leave that. The second search option is do I want to look for trademarks that are live or that are dead or that are dead and alive? It’s like a really weird movie. I’m just going to click alive. I’m not interested in trademarks that are dead.

The search term, this is where you’re going to put in your phrase. I’m going to put in make America great again. The results must contain, there’s three options here and I’m going to say the exact search phrase, and then I’m going to submit and see what comes up. The next page, the results, the trademark results for make America great again, there are two, four, six, eight, there’s 10 results, 10 trademarks for different versions of make America great again. I’m going to start opening a couple.

Just because it’s trademarked, like it’s trademarked for something but we don’t know yet if it’s trademarked for t-shirts and that’s what we’re interested in. I’m going to open each one of these up and get some more information on them. The first one, make America great again, is trademarked for embroidered patches, ornamental adhesive, cloth patches. Quite strange. I don’t think it’s t-shirts so we’re fine there.

The next one, make America great again, is trademarked for stickers, pens, posters, aha, here we go, clothing, sweatshirts, t-shirts, tank tops, blah, blah, blah. This is actually make America great again. It has a t-shirt trademark or clothing trademark, and actually has a registration number and a registration date, was the 16th of August, 2006. Oh my god, hilarious. The owner is Donald J. Trump For President, Incorporated. I wonder is that actually the Donald or somebody … I don’t know.

Long story short, make America great again, we’ve gone to the USPTO database. We’ve gone into tess, which is their little trademark area. We’ve typed in make America great again, got about 10 results. The first one was some weird one that had nothing to do with t-shirts so I wasn’t worried about it, but this one is definitely t-shirts so it means that you can’t use make America great again on a t-shirt.

One other thing is say you have a t-shirt that just says, “Vote for Trump,” or something. That should be fine in terms of trademarks. I don’t think, I can double check, I don’t think that has a trademark, but then you’re writing your description. You’re saying, “Vote for Trump for the 2016 USA elections.” You cannot write, “Make America great again,” even in the key words. You literally, this saying, Make America great again, you have to erase it from your memory and not use it in a t-shirt design, not use it in a title, not use it in keywords, not use it anywhere.

When you are thinking of putting up a t-shirt it’s not only the words on the t-shirt that you have to check for trademarks, it’s also going to be whatever description that you are going to write that goes along with your t-shirt, so the key words and stuff. You can’t have anything in there either that’s trademarked. Anywhere that you type, whether it’s going to be the key words, whether it’s going to be the description or on your t-shirt, you have to check them all for trademarks, which is a little bit tedious but it’s just the way it goes. In the greater scheme of things it’s still pretty quick and easy to do.

Let me see, so that is trademarks. Trademarks are a big thing. When Amazon started they didn’t really check. It was kind of up to us to figure out if we were on the right path in terms of trademarks. You would upload a t-shirt and it would just go live pretty much straightaway. They would never look at it or anything. What happened was there was a huge issue with people uploading trademark t-shirts. You’d see t-shirts from really popular TV shows, from just anything really popular like Disney ripoff t-shirts, ripoff t-shirts from massive sports teams, all these things that people didn’t have the right to put them up. This is kind of getting out of hand.

I think it was a couple of months ago and Amazon changed it, so now if you upload a t-shirt Amazon actually takes a look at it. I think it’s something that goes through an automated process and if it looks a bit suspicious then someone actually looks at it. If you’ve any key words, if you had make America great again as a key word in your t-shirt and you uploaded that today it would go to Amazon. It would sit there. It would probably get triggered as something a bit peculiar and somebody at Amazon would look at it and they would probably reject it. You wouldn’t even get it as far as seeing it on Amazon because they just reject it.

If they do reject a t-shirt it’s a good idea just to go in and check all your phrases. They’ve probably rejected it due to a trademark infringement in your words or your phrases somewhere. Just look at what you wrote, go into uspto.org and spend 10 minutes and just go and figure out where the problem actually was. If you’re really stuck you can email Merch, but to be honest, this is something that is probably better just to figure out on your own rather than sending them too many emails when you can work it out.

That’s it for this episode. Thank you very much for listening. If you’d like to be featured on the podcast as a Merch entrepreneur, be a guest on the podcast with me, I’d love to hear from you. You can pop over to the website merchentrepreneur.com, click the content page and just drop me an email and let me know your story. That’s it for today. Thank you again for listening and talk to you in the next episode.

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One Comment

  1. Kas

    Hi Elaine,

    Just read your wonderful post on checking Trademarks.
    I think I made a mistake in uploading a Tshirt with the word Kitty without checking.
    When I go uspto, it shows the serial number but not the registration number. I wanted to ask you that if it doesn’t have registration number, does it mean it’s ok to use it.

    Also my Tshirt is still under review, so I can’t delete it. I have sent a message to Merch that it was a mistake and that I can’t delete it.

    I am worried because I already have one warning.

    I would be grateful for your reponse on what I should be doing next.

    Many thanks in advance


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