Trademark Symbol


Trademark Symbol

This page answers questions like what is a trademark symbol and how and when the different trademark symbols are used.

What is the Trademark Symbol?

There are three main trademark symbols – ®, ™, and ℠ – that are often used in superscript form to identify trademarks.

Trademark symbols can signify many things, but one of their most important functions is to let others know your name or logo is protected.  Each of the main symbols tells others that you are asserting trademark rights. This makes it more difficult for someone to later claim ignorance after committing trademark infringement.

Trademarks can apply in a specific regional area or nationally – depending upon whether you have sought federal registration.  Unfortunately, you can’t simply use symbols interchangeably in order to garner more rights.

When to Use the Trademark Symbol

When you first begin use of a trademark or service mark, you should use the corresponding ™ or ℠ symbols.  While the SM symbol denotes services, it is not necessary to use.  Typically, companies just use the TM symbol regardless of whether the trademark is used in relation to goods or services.

The biggest distinction in the area of symbol usage is in the area of registration. To utilize the federally registered “R” ® symbol, your trademark must be federally registered.

The below is a summary of when to use the three primary types of trademark symbols:

  • Unregistered Trademark: An unregistered trademark is signified by the letters TM, typically stylized as ™. Since it doesn’t go through the trademark registration process, there’s no guarantee that your claim of ownership will be legally protected. Even with this being the case, it provides notice that you’re claiming common-law protections over the trademarked product.
  • Service mark: The word “trademark” is used generically to describe all types of trademarks, but when it comes to technical terms, a service mark is different than a trademark. Signified by the letters SM, typically stylized as ™, a service mark provides notice that you’re claiming common-law protection over services rather than products. This could include legal, banking or medical services.
  • Registered Trademark: Signified by the letter “R” contained within a circle – ® – a registered trademark is used only when you’ve been granted registration from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Unlike unregistered trademarks and service marks, this symbol provides notice that you are the presumptive legal owner of the trademark in question. This applies nationally and denotes legal protection not afforded to non-registered trademarks.

How to Use Trademark Symbol

Once you’re sure of the symbol to use, there’s no specific requirement on where you can place it on your product or marketing materials. In order to make it obvious, though, most companies place the symbol adjacent to the item they’re claiming ownership of.

You’ll typically see the symbol to the right of the trademark and either level with it or slightly higher (e.g. Pepsi® or Monster™). The norm of use, however, is superscript in the upper right. You should also note that you need not use the symbol at all to have trademark rights.  However, liberal use is the best policy.

How to Get the Trademark Symbol

To be able to use the registered “R” ® symbol, must go through the trademark registration process which includes:

  • Performing a trademark search: This ensures you’re not infringing on anyone else’s trademark.
  • Submit an application: Minimum filing requirements must be met including paying a non-refundable government filing fee.
  • Respond to Office Actions: If your trademark application cannot be approved as is, you’ll receive a letter notifying you of the issues.
  • Trademark is published: Once your application is approved, it will be published in the Official Gazette for a review period.
  • Certificate issuance: If no one opposes your trademark or requests an extension to oppose, you’ll be issued a registration certificate a few months after publishing in the Official Gazette.

Merely using a trademark will likely convey common law trademark rights. If you fail to register your trademark, however, you’re bypassing a wealth of benefits. Please see our trademark registration page for more information.

What if I Use Symbols Incorrectly?

There are several potential outcomes of using symbols incorrectly. These include the denial of your trademark application and potential fraud allegations.  Fortunately, it’s not difficult to abide by symbol-use requirements. The golden rule is to never use the registered R symbol unless the USPTO has issued you a Registration Certificate.

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If you have any questions related to how and when to use the various trademark symbols, please contact us.


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