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What are the Trademark Symbols in the US?

Trademark Symbols TM, SM, ®

What are the Trademark Symbols in the US?

Trademark symbols are essential tools in the branding and legal landscape, offering both protection and information. These symbols serve multiple important functions: they provide public notice of trademark claims, help consumers recognize branded products or services, and indicate the registration status with the US Patent and Trade Office. Understanding the different types of trademark symbols—(®), TM, and SM—and their appropriate use is crucial for anyone creating or managing a brand. This article explores what each symbol represents, how they can be used, and why they are significant for protecting intellectual property and reinforcing brand identity.

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What is a Trademark Symbol?

A trademark symbol is a visual mark that indicates the adjacent name, logo, phrase, or character is a trademark.

  • It serves to identify your trademark.
  • It aids customers in recognizing your trademark.
  • It alerts competitors that you claim ownership of the mark.

It informs customers and competitors whether your trademark is registered with the US. Patent and Trademark Office.

Types of Trademark Symbols

There are three trademark symbols: (®), TM, and SM. These symbols represent trademark rights and are commonly placed in superscripts next to a trademark.

Registered Trademark Symbol – ®

The registered trademark symbol (®) indicates that a product is officially registered in a specific country, providing the highest level of trademark protection. It signals to consumers that they are dealing with a trusted, registered product and is a deterrent against competitors who might consider infringing on the registered asset. Essentially, it reassures consumers of the authenticity of the product they seek while warning potential infringers to steer clear of the brand.

Trademark Symbol- (™)

The trademark symbol (™) is used to signify that a particular mark, such as those on goods like clothing or sunglasses, is being claimed by someone as their trademark. This symbol communicates that you assert rights over the mark, which may discourage others from using it. Additionally, the TM symbol can afford the user common law rights to the trademark. It is the appropriate symbol to use while your application is pending review for federal registration by the USPTO.

Service Mark Symbol – (℠)

The service mark symbol (℠) represents service marks denoting services rather than goods. For instance, if Josh owns Gerben IP, a law firm, he provides legal services and would use the SM symbol. This symbol identifies and protects the branding of services, distinguishing them from physical products.

What Trademark Symbols Accomplish?

As mentioned above, these symbols perform three crucial functions in protecting and distinguishing a brand:

  • Public Notice and Deterrence: Trademark symbols serve as a public declaration, signalling to competitors and the market at large your claims on certain names, phrases, symbols, and logos. They also act as a preventive measure against imitation, informing others that your brand elements are protected under trademark rights and should not be copied.
  • Consumer Recognition: These symbols help customers identify and seek out the visual cues associated with your brand, such as names and logos. By using trademark symbols, you highlight these elements as official representations of your brand, making it easier for consumers to recognize and choose your products or services in the marketplace.
  • Registration and Legal Protection: When a trademark symbol is used, especially the registered trademark symbol (®), it informs competitors and consumers alike that your trademarks are officially registered with the US. Patent and Trademark Office. This registration provides exclusive national rights and protections under Federal law, enhancing your legal standing in preventing unauthorized trademark use.

Is It Necessary to Use a Trademark Symbol?

Using a symbol is not legally required. The decision to use one is entirely optional. You can choose not to use a trademark symbol, which will not invalidate your rights. However, there are several compelling reasons why employing a trademark symbol can be beneficial:

  • Enhanced Legal Protection: While not mandatory, using a trademark symbol can provide clearer legal advantages in litigation by demonstrating active and public assertions of your trademark rights.
  • Public Notice: Symbols act as direct notice to competitors and the public that you are claiming rights over the marked terms or logos, which helps to prevent unauthorized use.
  • Consumer Awareness: Trademark symbols help consumers identify genuine products or services, enhancing brand recognition and trust.
  • Deterrence of Misuse: A trademark symbol can deter competitors from using similar names or logos, reducing the risk of confusion in the marketplace.

In summary, while not using a symbol does not diminish your rights, employing one can strengthen your brand’s position and legal standing.

When to Use Each Trademark Symbol?

Every symbol cannot be used at all times; it must be used appropriately based on the status of your trademark registration.

Registered Mark (®):

  • Use this symbol only after your trademark has been officially registered.
  • It is illegal to use the ® symbol before your trademark registration is approved, as doing so can be grounds for denial of your application by suggesting false registration.

Trademark (™):

  • Employ this symbol when claiming rights to a good that has not yet been registered with a trademark office.
  • The ™ symbol offers common law trademark rights and is appropriate to use while awaiting the approval of your trademark application for goods.

Service Mark (℠):

  • This symbol is used when claiming rights to a service rather than a good, and there is no registration.
  • The ℠ symbol is similar to the ™ symbol but specifically applies to services. It should be used while your trademark application for services is under review.

Using these symbols correctly not only helps protect your intellectual property but also communicates to others the status of your trademark rights.

How to Use Each Trademark Symbol?

Proper use of trademark symbols not only protects your brand but also ensures compliance with legal standards. Here’s how to correctly apply each symbol:

Placement of the Symbol on a Logo or Mark

All three trademark symbols (®, ™, ℠) should be placed in the top right corner of the associated mark. If using regular-sized typography, placing the symbol immediately after the mark is also acceptable.

Usage of Symbols in Trademark Applications

Do not include symbols when submitting a trademark registration application. The application should strictly represent the asset you wish to protect without the addition of ®, ™, or ℠ symbols.

Specifically, using the ® symbol in your application can lead to outright rejection because it suggests that the mark is already registered, which is a violation of federal law.

Consulting an experienced trademark attorney can help avoid critical mistakes and ensure proper filing.

Using Symbols for Trademarks Registered Abroad

If your trademark is registered in a country outside the US, you cannot use the ® symbol in the US. Unless your mark is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Therefore, the ® symbol is reserved strictly for trademarks registered through the USPTO.

Understanding when and where to use trademark symbols is crucial for protecting intellectual property. If you have any doubts or need guidance, consulting with a seasoned trademark attorney is highly advisable to navigate the application process and use symbols effectively.


Trademark symbols, including the (®), (™), and (℠), play critical roles in branding and legal protection by providing public notice, aiding consumer recognition, and indicating registration status with the US Patent and Office. While not legally required, using these symbols can enhance legal protection, deter misuse, and help establish a strong, recognizable brand. Understanding their appropriate use, based on trademark registration status, is crucial for any business looking to protect and communicate its intellectual property rights effectively in the marketplace.

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