Trademarks are legal protection that allow the owner to warn others against unauthorized use or theft of ideas.
What do the trademark symbols represent?
There are three different symbols. The trademark symbols (TM and SM) are both referred to as trademarks, but there are significant differences:
- ® (the federal registration symbol) indicates that the product or service is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The symbol announces that the holder registered with the USPTO. Those who use the mark without registering it with the USPTO risk severe penalties.
- TM: This is an unregistered trademark that represents goods or products. This announces that the company claims trademark ownership rights and may take an infringer to court, but the mark itself technically offers no legal protection.
- SM: This is an unregistered trademark for services. It functions in the same way as the TM in all other ways.
People with a federally registered trademark can use the registered trademark symbol (®), to alert others that the product is protected intellectual property laws. Any infringer with prior knowledge of a protected trademark, such as seeing the trademark symbol on the branding, is considered to have “constructive knowledge” of the mark’s registration. Constructive knowledge by definition means that a reasonable person should have known or been able to easily find out that a trademark was registered. The courts will rule that the infringer should have known the intellectual property was protected and it should have been easy for the infringer to find out this information.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recommends that companies make the trademark symbol easy to spot on packaging, such as in the upper or lower right-hand corner or level with the branding, that is, the name or logo being protected by the symbol but it is not required, and some companies do not include symbols due to aesthetic concerns. The owner need only use the symbol once on the product packaging or services accompanying paperwork and logos. Those who do not wish to use the ® can instead use “Registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office” or “Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off.” or other variations.
Many rules apply
Intellectual property and trademark law has many rules. Rather than risk and error, it is often best to consult with an attorney who handles these matters.