The TM symbol means “trademark” and is used to notify the public about a trademark’s legal rights. You do not need to file any official documents with United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) office to use the TM symbol, and using it does not mean an owner’s trademark is protected under trademark laws. It’s always good idea to use the TM symbol if a trademark registration is initially refused. On the other hand, unregistered trademarks cannot be associated with the R symbol. In the United States, using the TM symbol alongside the R symbol can result in penalties from the USPTO.

An Overview of the Different Trademark Symbols

There are three frequently used trademark symbols:

  • TM
  • SM
  • ® (the letter ‘R’ surrounded by a circle)

Anyone who uses a trademark symbol should be aware of the following: the correct symbol to use, why trademark symbols are used, where the symbols should be placed, and how to insert a trademark symbol into a document.

Both the TM and SM symbols are designated for unregistered marks:

  • TM for trademarks
  • SM for service marks

In some cases, a trademark might consist of both goods and services, and therefore a TM symbol is recommended. The ® symbol is a federal registration mark reserved for trademarks registered through the USPTO.

What Does the SM Symbol Mean?

The SM symbol (similar to the TM symbol) in that it provides a notice of common-law rights in a trademark. The SM is a service-related mark. As such, it covers services such as advertising and consulting services rather than products.

What Does ® Mean?

The ® symbol indicates registered ownership of a trademark, and is in many countries around the world, to notify the public that the trademark or service is legally protected. You are only allowed to use the symbol if your mark is federally registered. As such, the ® cannot be used while your trademark application is pending. Using the legally binding symbol gives trademark owners more protection in court. Simply put, no infringer can claim ignorance so long as the registration symbol is used in accordance with the law.

The registered symbol is used exclusively in association with the registered trademark or service mark. The symbol may only be used when it is properly registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and it will only be devoted to services and/or goods that are referenced in the registration application. Prior to being approved, the registered symbol may not be used by the applicant. In other words, until the USPTO has approved the application, the registration symbol may not be used.

In the U.S., the use of the registered trademark indicates to viewers that the trademark has been officially registered with the USPTO. Registering a trademark provides the registrant (and only the registrant) with the right to use the trademark. No other party may use the registrant’s trademark without consent. Any party that does infringe on the registrant’s trademark may be sued by the registrant and could be required to pay financial damages.

Unregistered parties that attempt to use the registered trademark symbol without the approval of the USPTO may have allegations of fraud brought against them if the party:

  • Demonstrates intent
  • Willfully and knowingly misuses a trademark
  • Attempts to mislead or deceive consumers
  • Goes out of their way to prevent a registered party from obtaining or enforcing its trademark rights. 

Trademark Protects what?

A trademark protects a good or service offered by a company from infringement or damage to reputation by another company. With a trademark, you have legal recourse to sue another company that uses your likeness to further its own business ventures. This includes both registered and unregistered trademarks.

In short, a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, design, or combination that helps consumers identify a particular product. A service mark is the same but pertains to a service instead of goods. Both marks are protected once they are used. This includes both registered and unregistered trademarks.


How to Use the Symbols–TM, SM, or ®.

When placing your trademark on a document, advertisement, or product, be sure to situate it prominently, so it’s easily noticed. The goal isn’t to hide the mark, but to notify any competitors of your trademark claim. The correct symbol should be placed in a subtle superscript in a trademark’s upper right-hand corner. If this isn’t an aesthetically pleasing solution, you can choose to drop it to the lower right-hand corner.

Even though placement is not legally regulated, the symbol should never be placed to the left, below, or above a mark. To make your trademark look different from competitor’s marks, try incorporating the symbol into the existing words, using the mark as an adjective.

In text and other documents, despite there not being a specific requirement, these symbols are most often placed next to the trademark in the upper right-hand corner, and typically in a raised superscript font. For example, Coca-Cola® features the trademark name and the appropriate symbol in the upper right-hand corner above the mark.

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