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Understanding Trademark Symbols: The Difference Between ™ and ®

Posted by Dragan Dan Ivetić | May 06, 2024 | 0 Comments

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Building your brand with trademarks (Photo by Marielle Ursua on Unsplash)


Understanding Trademark Symbols: The Difference Between ™ and ®

In the intricate world of intellectual property law, trademark symbols play a crucial role in indicating the status and level of legal protection associated with a brand name, logo, or slogan. The two primary symbols you've likely seen alongside brand identifiers are ™ and ®. But have you ever asked yourself - which one is appropriate to use for your circumstances? While they may seem interchangeable at first glance, they signify very different things. This article aims to demystify these symbols, offering clarity on what they represent and how they should be used by businesses. By knowing the correct interpretation and usage of these symbols, you can protect your trademark rights.

The ™ Symbol

The ™ symbol stands for "trademark" and is used to signify that an individual or entity is claiming a word, phrase, logo, or symbol as a trademark for their goods. It can signify a state trademark or an unregistered use of a common-law trademark. It can also indicate that someone has filed and has a pending USPTO application for a federal trademark.

Trademarks are distinctive signs or designs used by a business to identify its products or services and differentiate them from those offered by competitors. The ™ symbol can be used regardless of whether a trademark application has been filed with the relevant governmental body. It serves as a public declaration of the owner's rights to a particular mark, asserting a claim to the trademark, but does not guarantee legal protection by itself.

Businesses or individuals often employ the ™ symbol while their trademark application is pending or when they choose not to register their trademark at all. It's important for businesses to understand that while using the ™ symbol can have a deterrent effect against potential infringers, it does not offer the same level of legal protection and enforcement capabilities as a registered trademark.

The Symbol

The ℠ symbol is another symbol that you may see associated with a claimed trademark. This stands for "service mark" and is used to signify that an individual or entity is claiming a word, phrase, logo, or symbol as a trademark for their service. It can signify a state trademark or an unregistered use of a common-law trademark. It can also indicate that someone has filed and has a pending USPTO application for a federal trademark. In essence, the use of the ℠ symbol for a service is the same thing as using the ™ symbol for the sale of a good.

The ® Symbol

The ® symbol, short for "Registered Trademark," conveys that a trademark has been officially registered with the national trademark office in the country where it's being used, such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in the United States. The registration process entails a thorough examination, including a public opposition period, ensuring the trademark does not infringe on existing trademarks.

The use of the ® symbol is legally restricted to trademarks that have been fully registered and which are in good standing. This symbol offers a clear indication that the trademark is not only claimed by an entity but also recognized and protected under trademark law. In many jurisdictions, using the ® symbol on a trademark that hasn't been registered is illegal and can lead to legal penalties.

The ® symbol provides numerous advantages, including the ability to bring legal action concerning the trademark in federal court, the potential for registering the trademark in other countries based on the initial registration, and public notice of the owner's claim of ownership, which can be essential in infringement cases.

Choosing the Right Symbol

Determining which symbol to use comes down to the status of your trademark. If you are in the process of registration or merely asserting a claim to a particular mark without filing for official federal registration, the ™ symbol is appropriate. Once your trademark is successfully registered at the USPTO, you should begin using the ® symbol to reflect this status. Obviously, the same trademark can start out using a ™ symbol and then switch to the ® symbol after it has matured to a federal registration at the USPTO Trademark office.

Businesses should remain vigilant about the correct usage of trademark symbols, as improper use can undermine the credibility and legal standing of the brand. Furthermore, the strategic use of these symbols can serve as a valuable component of a company's brand protection strategy, signaling to competitors and the public the value placed on its intellectual property. A trademark attorney is a very good resource to advise on the proper strategic usage of these symbols. A trademark attorney can also assist in pursuing a federal registration so as to gain the right to utilize the ® symbol.

Do you have to Use a Trademark Symbol?

But what happens if a trademark owner does not use the ™ symbol, ℠ symbol, or the ® symbol? There is no legal requirement for a trademark owner to use any trademark symbol, whether federally registered or not. However, if your trademark is ever challenged, it is important to be able to prove your ownership, and evidence of constructive notice through use of such symbols will work to your advantage. While failure to use a Trademark Symbol will not invalidate your trademark rights, there are many good reasons to use a Trademark Symbol with your trademarks.

The Importance of Proper Use of Trademark Symbols

Using trademark symbols properly is not only important for legal reasons, but also for maintaining the value and integrity of a brand. The ™ symbol communicates that the word, phrase, or logo is being claimed as a trademark by its owner, while the ® symbol signifies that it has been officially registered with the USPTO. This can help prevent unauthorized use of the mark and protect against potential infringement.

In addition, using trademark symbols consistently can also help establish a stronger brand identity and build trust with consumers. When customers see the ™symbol, ℠ symbol or ® symbol associated with a brand, they are more likely to recognize and remember it as a unique and protected entity.

Best Practices for Using Trademark Symbols

In summary, while the ™ and ® symbols may appear similar at first glance, they represent vastly different levels of protection and recognition under trademark law. Understanding and correctly applying these symbols is essential for businesses looking to safeguard their brands adequately.

It goes without saying that best practices for your use of a trademark should always involve a partnership with an experienced trademark practitioner attorney. Working with such a trademark attorney can assist in many ways.

Firstly, an attorney can help you determine the proper use of trademark symbols for your specific situation and ensure that you are in compliance with trademark laws. They can also conduct a thorough search to check for any potential conflicts or infringement issues before registering your mark.

Additionally, working with a trademark attorney can provide added protection against third-party infringement claims. If someone uses your trademark without permission, having a registered mark and working with an attorney can strengthen your case in legal proceedings.

Lastly, trademark attorneys can assist in the ongoing maintenance and protection of your trademark. This includes monitoring for any potential infringement or unauthorized use of your mark and taking necessary steps to defend it.

In conclusion, understanding the difference between ™ and ® symbols is crucial for businesses looking to protect their brand. By working with a trademark attorney and following best practices, you can ensure that your mark is well-protected and recognized in the marketplace. So, use these symbols wisely and confidently to enhance the value and recognition of your brand. No matter what symbol you use, always remember to properly use it to indicate ownership or registration of your trademark. With this understanding, you can confidently move forward in building and protecting your brand identity. Remember that trademarks are valuable assets that require proper maintenance and protection to ensure their continued success. Partnering with a trademark attorney is a crucial step in this process, as they can provide expert guidance and support throughout the entire trademark journey. Don't underestimate the power of these symbols – they could be the difference between a successful brand and one that gets lost in the crowd. So, use them wisely and protect your brand for years to come. Thank you for reading this guide on using ™ and ® symbols in your branding efforts. We hope it has been helpful and insightful, and we wish you all the best in building and protecting your unique brand!

Remember that our office offers free initial consultations for potential clients interested in our trademark representation services.  Contact our office today to schedule your consultation!

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About the Author

Dragan Dan Ivetić

DRAGAN DAN IVETIĆ was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, and wanted to become an attorney to help people from a young age.  He received a bachelor's d...


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