Trademarks are words, phrases, symbols or designs that identify the source of goods or services. Trademark symbols are used to denote that something is a trademark and to attribute goods or services to the trademark owner. The main purposes of trademark symbols are to provide notice that a word, phrase, symbol or design is being used as a trademark. This establishes trademark rights and ownership, to deter infringement and prevent other companies from using your trademark. The symbols put others on notice that a trademark is protected, and to act as an adjective that attributes a good or service to the trademark owner. For example, Kleenex® tissues or Coca-Cola® soda.
The registered trademark symbol (®) is a special character that provides notice that the preceding word, phrase, symbol, or design is legally registered as a trademark. This symbol signifies to consumers that a trademark has been registered with the appropriate national trademark office. In the United States, the ® symbol shows that a trademark has been registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Brands, companies, and individuals register trademarks to obtain certain legal benefits and protections under trademark law. Once a trademark registration is approved, the owner has the exclusive nationwide right to use that mark in connection with the associated goods and services.
The ® symbol should only be used after a trademark registration has been approved and granted by the relevant trademark office. Using the ® symbol without an actual trademark registration can result in legal liability. Proper use of the ® symbol puts other parties on notice that they cannot use the trademarked name or logo without permission. This helps prevent consumer confusion and reinforces the mark owner’s exclusive rights. Registered trademarks must be actively used in commerce and renewals must be filed to maintain the registration validity. If at any point the registration lapses or is cancelled, use of the ® symbol would no longer be accurate or legal. Overall, the registered trademark symbol signifies active trademark protection, exclusive use rights, and valid registration status to the public.
The TM symbol stands for an unregistered trademark. It is used to assert a claim that the preceding mark is being used as a trademark but does not have a registered status. The TM symbol informs the public that the owner claims common law rights but that the mark is not formally registered.
The TM symbol is commonly placed in the upper right corner of the mark. It is used before a trademark application has been filed or a registration granted. Using the TM symbol gives notice that the owner may intend to register the mark and asserts unregistered common law trademark rights. In short, the TM symbol signals an unregistered trademark claim, while the ® symbol indicates national registration of the trademark. The TM informs the public of a trademark claim and should be upgraded to the ® after registering the mark.
Copyright is a form of legal protection granted to the authors of original creative works. This includes literary works, dramatic works, musical works, artistic works, sound recordings, films, and broadcasts. The copyright symbol © is used to indicate that a work is copyrighted. Unlike trademarks, which protect words, phrases, symbols or designs that identify the source of goods or services, copyright protects the form of expression of ideas, not the idea itself. To claim copyright, the work must be original and fixed in some tangible form. Copyright arises automatically when a work is created, so you don’t need to register a copyright to benefit from copyright protection. However, registering copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office provides additional benefits.
The copyright owner has the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, and make derivative works of the copyrighted work. Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. The copyright notice, consisting of the copyright symbol ©, the name of the copyright holder, and the year of first publication, serves to inform the public that the work is copyrighted. While use of the copyright notice is not mandatory, it discourages infringement and identifies the copyright owner in case enforcement becomes necessary. So in summary, the copyright symbol indicates that a creative work is protected by copyright law. It gives the creator exclusive rights over distribution and reuse of their work for a limited term. Proper use of the © symbol puts others on notice that permission is required for further use of the copyrighted material.
The service mark symbol (SM) is used to designate an unregistered service mark. A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. Examples of services that can have service marks are hotels, restaurants, transportation services, financial services, etc. The main purpose of service marks is to identify and distinguish the services of one business from the services of others in the minds of consumers. Service marks allow consumers to recognize the provider of a service even if they don’t know the name of the business.
The SM symbol tells the public that the owner claims rights to the mark, but that the mark is not yet registered with the relevant national trademark office. Service mark owners can choose to display the SM symbol while their application to register the mark is still pending. Registration provides additional legal benefits, but displaying the SM symbol already alerts the public that the business claims ownership of the mark. The goal is to stake their claim over the service mark and deter competitors from using it. Proper use of the SM symbol puts other businesses on notice that they should not use the mark without permission. It helps establish exclusive use and strengthens the legal enforceability of the service mark.
Trademark symbols serve an important purpose in business by identifying and protecting brands. The four main trademark symbols covered in this article – ®, TM, ©, and SM – each have specific meanings and legal implications for use. Properly applying these symbols is crucial for companies to preserve and enforce their trademark rights. To summarize, the ® symbol indicates a trademark that is formally registered with the appropriate national trademark office. Brands should only use the ® symbol after receiving a registration certificate. The TM and SM symbols denote unregistered trademarks for goods/services and services respectively. They signal a brand’s ownership and intent to obtain a registration. The © symbol represents copyright protection for artistic and creative works. Using the correct trademark symbols demonstrates an active effort to protect intellectual property. It also puts other parties on notice regarding a brand’s legal rights. For companies seeking to build brand recognition and equity in the marketplace, proper trademark use is essential. It enables brands to reap the benefits of their innovations and investments. Overall, trademark symbols allow consumers to easily identify authentic goods and services from specific providers. Their continued use in commerce facilitates trust between brands and customers.