April 30, 2024

People love to toss around symbols when they get excited about a new idea for a brand. Perhaps you are one of these people? Ask yourself, do I know what symbol to use and why? Let’s explore.

Trademark Symbol

The Trademark Symbol (™) is used to denote a word, phrase, or logo that is being used as a trademark or service mark. Similarly, you will see (SM) used in an analogous way for service marks. The (SM) can only be associated with a service, such as legal or accounting services but (TM) can be used in connotation with both services and goods. See What is a Service Mark and How Do I Use It?

Use of (TM) or (SM) is permissible even if you are yet to file an application to register your mark. In other words, you can use these symbols when you are in the “dating phase” with your mark — either before or during the trademark registration process.

When should you use the (TM) or (SM)? You should use these symbols when you want to establish your claim to ownership of the mark as a first step in protecting your unique logo, phrase, or word. Use these symbols as notice to others, including your competition and potential infringers, that you are serious about using the word, phrase, or logo, as a trademark and asserting your rights over it.

Using (TM) or (SM) is a good way to start using your brand in commerce and generating awareness of your mark. Think of it as saying, “we are going steady, so don’t try to ask my mark out for a date, because I am getting ready to propose a forever relationship.” But be aware, just like in relationships, things can happen and using the (TM) or (SM) does not guarantee legal safeguards for your mark. Rather, it signals your intent to register the trademark.

Also, you can use the (TM) symbol internationally, which is a good idea because it is widely recognized. Again, use of the (TM) symbol internationally only signals your intent to claim the mark but does not grant you any automatic protections. In order to truly safeguard the exclusive rights to your mark, you must obtain a proper, complete, and successful registration in each country where you are or will be using the mark pursuant to that jurisdiction’s laws and regulations.

Registration Symbol

What makes the ® symbol so special? It tells others that you are in a “long-term and committed relationship” with your mark. It means that you have completed the registration process with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). You must wait until you have completed the registration process before you use the ® symbol — then and only then — can you use the ® symbol. Importantly, the ® symbol communicates to others that you have rights to the mark. Be aware that you can only use the ® symbol after your registration is complete and successful and in applicable jurisdictions or regions.

Copyright Symbol

Let’s turn to the copyright symbol ©. This symbol communicates copyright protections for “original works.” The U.S. Copyright Office states that “original works” are “independently created by a human author and have a minimal degree of creativity.” The United States Supreme Court has held that such works have a “creative spark” and an “independent creation plus a modicum of creativity.”

The copyright symbol © does not have the same meaning as the trademark, service mark, or registration symbols. Rather, it can be used to indicate that your identified work is protected by copyright law. Using the symbol is an important step to bolster your copyright protections along with a copyright registration. The U.S. Copyright Office states that, ”although registering a work is not mandatory, for U.S. works, registration (or refusal) is necessary to enforce the exclusive rights of copyright through litigation.”

Next Steps

Learn more by visiting the International Trademark Association article “Marking Requirements” for more information on this topic.

Take the next step in registering your trademark with the USPTO. Schedule a consultation with MJ Vuinovich at (928) 233-6800 or reception@flaglawgroup.com. Se habla Español.


The information provided in this blog post does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials are for general informational purposes only.  Information in this blog post may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information.  This blog post contains links to other third-party websites.  Such links are only for the convenience of the reader, user or browser; Flagstaff Law Group, PLLC, and its members do not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.