What Do TM and Circle R (®) Symbols Mean and How to Use Them? - The Trademark Place (2024)

Whether you are a business owner, a marketer, or a consumer, everyone has seen the trademark symbols TM and circle R (®). They are on almost every product or service that we see. But do you know what they are? In this blog post, we will explain what they mean and how (and when) to use them.

TM Symbol

The TM symbol is short for trademark. Trademarks are names, logos, slogans, etc. that are used to distinguish products or services from others. Let’s use sodas as an example. When you see Coca-Cola, you know it’s not the same thing as Pepsi or Dr. Pepper. These are each separate trademarks owned by different companies.

The TM symbol puts people on notice that the mark identifies the brand. However, it does not mean that the mark is federally registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Anyone can use the TM symbol without applying for registration or paying any fees. The TM symbol can be used for both goods and services.

Registered Trademark Symbol

The Circle R (®) which means “registered trademark,” is used to show that the mark has been fully registered. For example, Nike has registered their name, the Swoosh logo, and the phrase “Just do it” for, among other things, shoes and sporting goods. On each of their products, you can find the ®. Trademark registration gives the owner exclusive rights to use the mark and prevent others from using confusingly similar marks. Registered trademarks can also be used as evidence of validity and ownership in case of infringement or dispute.

The registered trademark symbol can only be used after the mark has been registered. It’s considered fraudulent to use the circle R symbol for an unregistered mark or a mark that is pending registration. The registered trademark symbol can also only be used for the goods and services included in the registration.

Both trademark symbols, TM and the R in a circle, are typically placed in the upper right-hand corner or lower right-hand corner of the mark. They should also be consistent throughout all marketing materials and communications.

What About the SM Symbol?

SM is an acronym for service mark. The best way to think of a service mark is as a type of trademark that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product. FedEx is a service mark for a delivery service.

The SM symbol shows that the owner considers the mark to be proprietary and unique and that it is a part of their intellectual property. However, just like the TM symbol, it does not necessarily mean that the mark is registered. Anyone can use the SM symbol without applying for registration or paying any fees. A key difference between the SM and TM symbols is that the service mark symbol can only be used for services, not goods, whereas the trademark symbol can be used for both.

The SM symbol can be replaced by the circle R symbol after the mark has been registered with the USPTO or another government agency. The same rules and benefits that apply to registered trademarks also apply to registered service marks. The circle R symbol can only be used for the services that are covered by the registration.

The SM symbol is less common than the TM and circle R symbols, as most businesses offer both goods and services under their brand name. However, if you provide a service distinct from your goods, you may want to use the SM symbol to indicate to your consumers that this is for a service and not a good.

How to Use Them

Using TM and circle R symbols correctly can help you protect your brand identity and reputation, as well as avoid legal troubles. Here are some tips:

  • Use TM for unregistered marks or marks that are pending registration.

  • Use the R symbol for officially registered marks only.

  • Do not use TM or the registered trademark symbol for generic terms, descriptive terms, or common words that are not distinctive.

  • Do not use TM or the registered symbol for marks that belong to someone else without their permission.

  • Do not use TM or circle R for marks that are confusingly similar to existing marks.

  • Do not use TM or circle R for marks that are offensive, deceptive, or misleading.

Can You Still Use TM After Registration?

It is a simple and common question that trademark owners have. Can (or should) they still use the TM symbol after trademark registration? The short answer is yes they can, but it’s really not recommended. Let’s look at why you shouldn’t.

Using TM after registration may confuse consumers about the status of your mark. Consumers may think that your mark is still unregistered or pending registration, which may affect their perception of your brand quality and reputation.

Using TM after registration may weaken your legal protection. If you use TM instead of circle R, you may lose some of the benefits of registration, such as presumption of validity and ownership, nationwide protection, constructive notice, right to sue, and recordation with customs.

Using TM after registration may expose you to infringement claims. If you use TM instead of the R symbol, you may imply that you do not have exclusive rights to your mark or that you do not care about enforcing your rights. This may encourage others to use your mark or similar marks without your permission.

Therefore, it is advisable to use circle R instead of TM after registration to show that you are a registered trademark owner and that you take your intellectual property seriously. This will help you protect your mark from infringement and dilution and enhance your brand image and credibility.

However, there are some exceptions where you may still use TM after registration. For example:

Where you only have some of your goods or services registered, then you should use the R symbol for the goods or services that are actually registered and TM for the rest.

When you are using your mark internationally, you can use the registered symbol in the countries where it is registered and the trademark symbol in the countries where it’s not.

Marks consisting of multiple elements, like a logo and a slogan, can use the circle symbol for the registered element and TM for the unregistered element.

In any case, you should always use the symbols correctly and consistently.

If you have any questions about trademarks or need professional assistance with registering your mark, please contact us today for a consultation.

What Do TM and Circle R (®) Symbols Mean and How to Use Them? - The Trademark Place (2024)


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