What do the different trademark symbols mean?
I have had many different people ask me about the ® and TM symbol that often appear on products. The difference in whether the ® symbol or TM symbol is used depends on whether the trademark in question is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
What does the TM symbol mean?
The TM symbol can be used on a trademark to denote that the person or entity using the mark is claiming common law trademark protection. This type of protection is weaker than a federal registration, but it has its uses.
For example, if a mark if merely descriptive of the goods or services it cannot be registered with the USPTO without secondary meaning. The secondary meaning requirement is satisfied when there is proof that the average consumer of the goods associates the trademark with the good or service. While the mark may not be initially registrable without secondary meaning, the brand holder can use the TM symbol while building secondary meaning.
There are no restrictions (unlike the ® symbol) on the use of TM, and trademark holders may use TM when they have a state registration.
The ® symbol means the mark is registered with the USPTO
The ® symbol should only be used for trademarks which are registered with the USPTO. Placing the ® symbol on goods that are not registered can lead to USPTO taking disciplinary action.
Federal registration confers significant benefits upon the registration, including the right to sue and collect damages. Also, registration on the Principal Register is proof that the mark is valid and has acquired secondary meaning.
Trademark owners may also use SM (service mark), trademark, or “trademark applied for” on their goods and services. There is no requirement that the mark be registered prior to using these three symbols.
Using the appropriate trademark designation serves to put others on notice that you are claiming trademark rights in your brand name. You should only use the ® symbol if you have registered the mark with the USPTO. If you haven’t registered the mark with the USPTO, you can use the TM symbol to give consumers notice and build secondary meaning.
If you have any questions about trademark rights please contact me here.