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IP Symbols – ™ ® ℠ © – What Do They Mean?

I’m always getting questions from folks searching for trademark help about the different kinds of symbols that are associated with intellectual property protection. Common questions include, “When do I get to use ®?” and “What’s the difference between ™ and ℠”?. The purpose of this post is to explain the differences between the symbols and when to use each of them.

What Does The TM symbol ™ Mean?

The TM symbol, ™, is used to denote an unregistered trademark. That means your logo, symbol, slogan, phrase, etc., is not yet a federally-registered trademark. If you’ve just put in an application for a trademark, then this is the symbol you should be using with your mark.

The benefit of using the TM symbol, ™, is that it puts the public and your competitors on notice that you believe your mark is proprietary and that you are taking steps to protect the mark. One thing to keep in mind with the TM symbol, ™, if you see it on a competitor’s mark is that it doesn’t necessarily mean a trademark registration has even been applied for. Also, the TM symbol, ™, has no legal meaning, so its only really benefit is putting folks on notice.

The ™ symbol is usually placed adjacent to the mark in the upper-left or bottom-left corner.

When Do I Use The Circle R ® Symbol?

The Circle R symbol, ®, is only used when the applied-for-mark is actually registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This occurs once the application completes the registration process with the USPTO. It’s critically important that you do not use the Circle R symbol, ®, unless the mark is actually registered with the USPTO.

It’s actually a federal law that the Circle R symbol, ®, not be used unless the mark is registered. See 15 United States Code § 1111. It’s also critical that you do not use the Circle R symbol, ®, prior to trademark registration. The USPTO can see this use and choose to deny your application on the basis of inappropriate use of the registration symbol. There’s no reason to use the Circle R symbol, ®, prior to application because you also have the TM symbol, ™, or the SM symbol, ℠, available for your use. Using the TM symbol, ™, or the SM symbol, ℠, prior to registration is the preferred method because then there’s no question about you trying to skirt federal law.

The ® symbol is usually placed adjacent to the mark in the upper-left or bottom-left corner.

What Does The SM symbol ℠ Mean?

The SM symbol, ℠, is used to denote an unregistered trademark that is used as a service mark. The SM symbol, ℠, is rarely used because most people revert to the TM symbol, ™, because it’s easier to remember. A service mark is a mark used in conjunction with a service rather than goods. For example, if your mark is for cookies, a good, then you would use the TM symbol, ™. I, as a lawyer, use the SM symbol, ℠, in conjunction with legal services my firm offers.

When you use the SM symbol, ℠, you’re telling folks that your logo, symbol, slogan, phrase, etc., is not yet a federally-registered trademark. If you’ve just put in an application for a service mark, then this is the symbol you should be using with your mark.

The benefit of using the SM symbol, ℠, is that it puts the public and your competitors on notice that you believe your mark is proprietary and that you are taking steps to protect the mark. One thing to keep in mind with the SM symbol, ℠, if you see it on a competitor’s mark is that it doesn’t necessarily mean a trademark registration has even been applied for. Also, the SM symbol, ℠, has no legal meaning, so its only really benefit is putting folks on notice.

The ℠ symbol is usually placed adjacent to the mark in the upper-left or bottom-left corner.

What Does The Circle C symbol © Mean?

The Circle C symbol, ©, is used denote a copyrighted work. Copyright is a completely different federal intellectual property schema that is completely different from the trademark process. For example, the text of a book would be subject to copyright protection, but the names of the characters may be afforded trademark protection. For example, the text of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is registered for copyright protection, but the name “Harry Potter” has trademark protection.