What Is a Trademark Symbol?

There are two main trademark symbols: ™ and ®. These symbols promote a piece of intellectual property and its trademark status. They distinguish a company's goods and services. You should use trademark symbols with a range of intellectual property, including your brand name, your product names, your logo, and your slogan.

The ™ symbol stands for trademark. This is sometimes called a common law trademark or unregistered trademark. Any mark automatically gets a common law trademark once it's used in commerce. You do not need to file any paperwork or get anyone's approval to use this symbol. The ™ symbol was first used in the United States and the United Kingdom, but its use has spread throughout the world. While the ™ symbol indicates common law rights, your common law trademark offers less protection than a registered trademark.

The registered trademark symbol is ®. This is the trademark applied to goods or services once the common law trademark is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). You can only use this symbol with a piece of registered intellectual property used in connected with the goods and services noted on your federal registration certificate. You cannot use it where you have a common law trademark or a trademark pending.

A less common trademark symbol is SM . This symbol stands for service mark. It's the common law trademark applied to services, like lawn mowing or manicures, once they are used in commerce. Like the ™ symbol, SM can be used freely without filing paperwork. Many people avoid using the SM symbol because it's not widely understood and the letters SM have undesirable connotations. People with common law service marks can use the symbol ™ in its place, as a service mark is a type of trademark.

These symbols show your trademark status within the United States. However, they are recognized and understood throughout the world.

Using the Trademark Symbols

Trademark symbols can be a great way to promote your intellectual copy's trademark on a variety of materials including:

  • Brochures
  • Advertisements
  • Websites
  • Press releases
  • Press articles
  • Company documents

There are no rules about the placement of trademark symbols. However, most trademark holders place the symbols in one of three positions:

  • The upper right-hand corner of a mark
  • The lower right-hand corner of a mark
  • Level with the mark

It's uncommon and not advisable to place the trademark symbol below, above, or left of your mark.

Placing your trademark symbol in a prominent and expected place helps people notice it. You can further set trademarked text apart by writing it in bold, italics, uppercase letters, or even a different typeface.

In documents like company reports or press releases, the trademark symbol is traditionally written directly after the mark without a space. Some people write trademark symbols after the first or most noticeable mention of the mark, while others prefer to use the symbols after every incident. This can create unnecessary clutter, though, and may detract from the look of your piece. It may also make it harder to read.

Another alternative is using *(asterisk) or †(dagger) or ‡(double dagger) symbols near the first use of the trademark, then detailing the trademark in a footnote.

  • † NIKE and the swoosh logo are trademarks registered in the US Patent and Trademark Office.
  • NIKE and the swoosh logo. Reg. U.S. Pat. & Tm. Off.

You could use bold, italics, uppercase letters, or a different type to show trademarks, then explain them in a footnote. All footnotes for registered trademarks must refer to the registration as above. A footnote for a common law trademark might look something like this.

  • † The crown logo is a trademark of MyCompany, Inc.

You should always use the trademark symbol, or a placeholder for it, with the first instance of the mark. The first page of each written document should have at least one obvious use of the trademark symbol.

Businesses commonly list the trademark holder and all trademarks used on a website or printed document at the bottom of the site or page.

While trademarks should be noticeable, the ® symbol is typically printed in superscript and smaller type than the mark, just as the ™ symbol always is. This helps the symbol stand out without dominating a design.

Inserting the Trademark Symbols into Documents

There are a number of techniques for inserting trademark symbols into your documents. The technique you use may depend on your computer type, the program you're running, and your personal preference.

For most PC desktops and laptops running Windows, make sure number lock is on. Press the Alt key together with the number 0153 or 8482 for ™, 0174 for ®, and ℠ for service mark. Press the numbers on the number pad and not the ones above the letters.

Windows users can also use the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator to assign shortcuts or shift states to the trademark symbols. You can assign any combination of keys that makes sense to any trademark. For example, you might type the ™ symbol when you press the right alt key and the letter T together.

You could also use the MS Windows Character Map or CharMap to view all characters and symbols in all fonts, including the trademark symbols. Just click on the symbol you want to insert it.

Mac users have other options. The easiest is pressing the option key together with the number two for ™ and with the letter R for ®. Alternatively, you can click on the symbols you want using Character Palette, which shows all characters and symbols installed on your Mac.

Regardless of your operating system, you should be able to insert your trademark symbol using your preferred word processor. Most word processing software has an "insert symbol" or "special character" function. You usually find these in the edit or insert menus. Just browse through the symbols and click when you find the right one. Many word processors also automatically convert (TM) and (R) into the ™ and ® symbols. Or you could simply copy the symbols from an article like this and paste them into your own document.

Reasons to Use Trademark Symbols

  • They tell your competitors of your trademarks. Trademark symbols tell other businesses in your industry about your trademark on certain pieces of intellectual property, including your brand name and logo. This notice may be enough to deter your rivals from infringing on your copyright. Just as you hope others respect your trademarks, you should always respect the trademarks of other businesses. This benefits your reputation and makes sure your customers are never confused about your brand.
  • They protect your trademark rights. If your trademark is registered, using the ® symbol protects your registration rights. Using the ® symbol correctly gives future defendants constructive knowledge of your mark's registration. It would be almost impossible for a defendant to claim they didn't know about your trademark. But if you don't use the symbol, you may not be able to claim damages and legal costs from someone who infringes on your trademark. Using the ® symbol can also stop your trademark from becoming generic because it reminds people of the origin of your products and services. The ™ symbol also provides some protection, but this is more limited.
  • They make your mark distinctive. Before your trademark is registered, the ™ symbol can help your mark become unique. This can improve your chances of getting registration later, especially if your mark may be difficult to register because it's too descriptive.
  • It's best practice. Using trademark symbols consistently with your trademarks is considered good business practice. Their use is conventional and based on the precedent of so many businesses that have come before. There is a certain comfort level for other businesses and customers when they know what to expect from you.

Reasons Not to Use Trademark Symbols

Despite the benefits trademark symbols bring, using them in the United States is optional. U.S. law differs from regulations in Mexico, Chile, the Philippines, and Peru. In these nations, the trademark may be challenged by a third party if a trademark holder doesn't use the ® symbol. Given that Americans have a choice, it's important to consider why you might not use the trademark symbol on any given piece of marketing material.

Trademark symbols can make a clean piece of marketing material seem cluttered and messy. Using the ™ or ® symbols is optional, so if you feel their use compromises your artistic vision or a document's readability you can always leave them off. Just remember the benefits of using the trademark symbol provides when making your decision.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the categories of intellectual property?

Patents, copyrights, and trademarks are the key forms of intellectual property.

  • A trademark protects distinctive words, symbols, names, sounds, and other elements used in commerce to distinguish a business's goods or services in the market.
  • A patent protects an invention, like a clock or a toy.
  • A copyright protects an artistic or literary work, like a song or a novel.

Trademarks can last indefinitely, while patents and copyrights both have set terms. Trademark law protects the rights of people who own, invent, and create all these types of intellectual property by preventing unauthorized use.

Yes. You are free to continue using the ™ or trademark symbol.

  • Are there shortcuts for typing copyright symbols on my computer?

For the traditional copyright sign ©, hold down the alt key and the numbers 0169 on a PC or the alt key and the lowercase g on a Mac. For the sound recording copyright symbol ℗, hold down the alt key and the numbers 8471 on a PC. There is no corresponding code for Macs.

  • What would happen if I used the ® symbol without registration?

Using the ® symbol before you have a registered trademark is a federal offense. If you use the symbol unlawfully, you could face fraud charges before the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. The board would determine whether you deliberately, knowingly, and willfully misused the ®. You may be accused of attempting to deceive consumers or making it difficult for other businesses to use the trademark. You would also jeopardize your chances of registering your trademark in future.

  • Do I need to get my trademark registered with USPTO?

Trademark registration isn't compulsory, but it is strongly recommended. The owners of registered trademarks can launch federal legal proceedings for trademark infringement when they see someone unlawfully using their mark. People with unregistered trademarks can also file legal proceedings for trademark infringement, but those matters are dealt with in state courts. They are also only protected for usage within the areas they've been used or places the business could expand to. In contrast, trademark registration offers national protection.

Trademark registration also gives your business the freedom to grow. It secures national rights to your trademark, so you don't need to worry about infringing on the trademark rights of other businesses as you expand across the country.

Of course, registration is also essential before you can use the ® symbol.

Note that you need to conduct business outside your state to meet the trademark registration criteria.

  • How do I register a trademark?
  • Determine whether your mark is unique. Conduct a trademark search using the USPTO's Trademark Electronic Search System to see whether anyone else has a mark that's the same or very similar. Professional search firms and trademark attorneys can conduct a more thorough search.
  • Complete the application form on the USPTO website.
  • Wait for the USPTO to make its decision. Remember, you can't use the ® symbol until you get approval. It usually takes between 10 to 16 months to get a registered trademark, so be patient. You can use the ™ symbol in the meantime.
  • Maintain your trademark. Your registration can last indefinitely if you pay the regular renewal fees and continue to use your trademark to represent your named goods and services.
  • Does my trademark registration and the ® symbol protect me in the cyberworld?

It certainly does. In November 1999, President Clinton signed the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act. Because of this Act, registered trademark holders like you can sue cybersquatters for damages and recover their domain names.

Cybersquatters are people who register a domain name that's identical or similar to a registered and well-known trademark with a bad faith intent to profit. Cybersquatters either try to sell the domain to the trademark holder at an inflated price or use the domain to dupe internet users searching for the trademark holder.

Using the ® symbol can strengthen any case you file against cybersquatters.

  • Are there any differences when using these symbols around the world I should know?

If you have foreign trademarks or conduct international trade, it's important to know how to use these symbols in the other markets.

In the United Kingdom , the abbreviation RTM often stands in place for the ® symbol. You can use either RTM or ® in the UK if you hold a valid registered trademark anywhere in the world. However, it's illegal to use these markers if you only have a common law trademark under Section 95 of the Trade Marks Act 1994.

The ® symbol isn't legally significant in France. But that doesn't mean you should use it with only a common law trademark. If you do, you may be charged with an act of unfair competition under article 1382 of the French Civil Code. Misusing the symbol is likely to be perceived as misleading to consumers.

  • I hold a registered trademark in the United States but I want to import into a foreign market that doesn't recognize it. How will this work?

It all depends on the foreign market you hope to export to. In the European Union, the European Court of Justice says the principle of free movement of goods trumps the national Unfair Competition Law. In other words, advertising a valid trademark, even if it's not a trademark registered in that country, is not misleading or an infringement on the Unfair Competition Law.

In Germany , after the Higher Regional Court of Cologne ruling of November 27, 2009, Case 6 U 114/09–Medisoft®, marked goods, or at least their advertisements, must show that the ® refers to a foreign trademark. Germany also prefers businesses use the ™ symbol only with registered trademarks, following a 2003 case in The Regional Court of Munich I. The court found using the ™ symbol without registration was misleading and deceptive according to the German Unfair Competition Law. This has been challenged at the same level of jurisdiction, but since the issue remains contentious, it's best for unregistered trademark holders to refrain from using the ™ symbol in Germany.

In other nations, other steps may be appropriate. While ordinary labeling would be fine, over-stickering may not be allowed under some countries' regulations.

On the other hand, reducing marking on the package may also be disallowed. Marking is mandated in some countries. When you reduce the marking on your packages, you can also decrease the mark's value.

If you're not sure how you should use the trademark symbols abroad or within the United States, you can post your legal need and receive free custom quotes from the top 5% of trademark attorneys listed on the UpCounsel website.